‘Like a Miracle’: Israel’s Vaccine Success Allows Easter Crowds in Israel

JERUSALEM – On Friday morning, in the old town of Jerusalem, in the limestone alleyway of the Christian quarter, it was as if the epidemic had never occurred.

The winding passages that make up the Via Dolorosa, along which Christians believe Jesus crossed the cross for his crucifixion, were filled with more than 1,000 worshipers. In the covered market, the scent of incense was drenched and resonated with Christian hymns. The procession on Good Friday, where the faithful path Jesus has spoken about, was returned.

“It’s like a miracle,” said the Rev. Amjad Sabbara, a Roman Catholic clergyman who helped lead the procession. “We are not doing this online. We are seeing people in front of us. “

Epidemiological restrictions forced the cancellation of last year’s ceremony and required priests to serve without the priests present. Now, thanks to Israel World-leading vaccine rollout, Religious life in Jerusalem is returning to normal. And on Friday, which once again crowded the streets of the city, giving relief to one of the most important monuments of Christianity: the procession of Good Friday.

“We are very lucky to be here,” said Methisch, a 40-year-old chorister at Father Sabbara’s church in the Old City. “It is the highest privilege when you take the same steps that Jesus did.”

For the past one year, the epidemic kept the old city empty. Its shops, synagogues and churches were often closed, its streets crowded with tourists and pilgrims. But after being fully vaccinated by about 60 percent of Israeli residents, the city’s streets were thrilling once again, even when foreign tourists are absent.

“When it’s empty, it’s like a ghost town,” Ms. Bathish said. Now, he said, “It’s a city of life.”

At the gathering place for the procession on Friday, the space for standing was empty. Police officials prevented latecomers from entering through the nearby streets. Members of a Catholic youth group formed a ring around the carrier of a large replica crucifé, as the focal point of the procession, carrying it from the seas of worshipers.

Many of the people involved in the procession were Palestinians, who after Israel occupied the old city of Israel in 1967 along with the rest of East Jerusalem. About 6,000 Christians live in the Old City along with Muslims and Jews.

“Walk behind the cross!” Shouted a church officer. “Behind the cross, everyone!”

Above Habub, Father Amjad summons his congregation to walk in pairs. “Two by two”, he shouted through the loudspeaker. “Not one by one!”

The crowd then departed slowly, singing mournful hymns as they proceeded and Christians contemplated the re-enactment of Jesus’ final stages.

They moved to Fitts and started Via Dolorosa, behind the spot where tradition holds that Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate, in the past where he found shops selling Christian icons and crosses, ice cream, and T-shirts. They were blown up in the past and made fun of.

They turned left and then right, places where Christians believe Jesus stumbled – once, twice, three times – under the weight of the cross.

In the street outside St. Simon’s Chapel of Cyron, a ocher in the wall of the March Chapel stuck his fingers on limestone. According to tradition, Jesus staked himself against the stone after stumbling. And so many pilgrims, for many centuries, have been stroking the stone that its surface is now smooth to the touch.

Finally, they arrive at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, who believe that Christ was the site of the cross, burial and, ultimately, the resurrection.

For some, the Good Friday procession echoed more than usual – its themes of suffering, redemption and renewal seem particularly symbolic as the end of a deadly epidemic appeared.

“We’ve raised hope again,” says George Hallis, 24, who is studying to become a priest and who lives in the Old City. “Last year was like a darkness that came to Earth.”

For others, having an psychological significance, an emotional person was also able to regroup.

“All Christians are part of the body of Christ,” Msgr said. Vincenzo Peroni, a Catholic clergyman based in Jerusalem, who has led regular pilgrimages within the Holy Land. “Being able to celebrate together makes it more visible.”

But for now, that solidarity still faces limits. There are still restrictions on the number of worshipers at Easter services. Masks are still a legal requirement. And foreigners still need an exemption to enter Israel – keeping thousands of pilgrims out, at the cost of local shopkeepers who depend on their occupation.

“It still seems that this is not normal,” said Hagop Karkashian, owner of the famous ceramic shop in the Old City, whose family Designed neighborhood street signs. Locals can celebrate, yes. But something is still missing. “

In the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, the mood was even less pleasant among Christians at a short distance. Christians in the occupied territories can only visit Jerusalem with a special permit, which has become even more difficult to procure during the epidemic. Most of the Israelis are now vaccinated, most of the Palestinians have not received a single dose.

Israel has supplied vaccines to more than 100,000 Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, almost all of whom work in Israeli or West Bank settlements. Palestinian authorities have received more than 150,000 doses.

But israel It’s not bound To vaccinate the rest of the Palestinian population, citing a section of Oslo Peace Agreement In the 1990s, which shifted health care duties to Palestinian authorities. Critics say it is still the responsibility to help Israel, citing International law An occupancy power is needed to monitor health care for the occupied population, as well as a separate section of the Oslo accent that states that Israel must work with the Palestinians during the epidemic.

Either way, the rate of infection in the occupied territories is still high and the vaccination rate is low – and this has limited the number of Palestinian Christians who are allowed to enter Jerusalem for Easter this year. A spokesman for the Israeli government refused to reveal the final number.

“Without a permit, we cannot come,” said Remal Jamal Khader, a Roman Catholic parish priest in Ramalla. “It is a sign of the continued presence of the business and the limitations of the movement.”

But the cross and resurrection of Christ still provide spiritual nourishment for a depressed population, said Father Khadar, who is allowed to enter Jerusalem through his work with the Church.

“We recognize Christ’s sufferings on Good Friday,” he said.

“Then,” he said, “we have some hope on Easter Sunday.”

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