Christians in the Holy Land commemorated Good Friday without the usual massive pre-Easter pilgrimages due to the coronavirus, and worshipers from many other Christian-majority nations still ravaged by the pandemic observed their second consecutive Holy Week with strict limits on concentrations.
In Jerusalem, many holy sites were opened thanks to an ambitious Israeli vaccination campaign. The situation was in stark contrast to last year, when the city was quarantined. In Lebanon, Israel’s neighbor, Christians observed Good Friday in quarantine and suffering a severe economic crisis.
In Latin America, numerous penitents from Mexico and Guatemala to Paraguay carried branches covered with thorns and large crosses during reenactments of the Passion of Christ. At the Vatican, Pope Francis presided over the Stations of the Cross ceremony with lighted torches in St. Peter’s Square, without taking place for the second year the traditional procession through the Colosseum that attracts thousands of pilgrims, tourists and citizens of Rome.
The faithful in the Philippines and France had their second Holy Week with restricted mobility amid outbreaks with more contagious variants. In the United States, the authorities asked Christians celebrating outdoors with social distancing, or watching virtual ceremonies.
In the Old City of Jerusalem, Franciscan monks in their characteristic brown robes they led hundreds of faithful along the Via Dolorosa, repeating a tour in which according to tradition Jesus took his last steps while reciting prayers over loudspeakers at the Stations of the Cross. Another large group carried a wooden cross, sang hymns, and stopped to pray.
Religious sites only allowed a certain number of worshipers to enter. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was open to visitors, who had to wear a mask and keep a safe distance. The temple was built in the place where Christians believe that Jesus was crucified, died, and rose from the dead.
Despite running one of the most effective vaccination campaigns in the world, air traffic to and from Israel remains limited due to quarantine and other restrictions, situation that prevented the arrival of foreign pilgrims who habitually fill Jerusalem during Holy Week. In years past, tens of thousands of pilgrims visited the city’s holy sites.
“In normal years we ask people to get out. Last year we asked them to stay home, ”said Wadie Abunassar, advisor to church leaders in the Holy Land. “This year we are somewhat silent.”
“We must pray for those who cannot be here”said Alejandro González, a Mexican who lives in Israel. “Those of us who can be here have the responsibility to take them into account and walk this way of the cross that they are also going through.”
In Lebanon, Christians observed Good Friday amid a severe economic crisis exacerbated by last year’s gigantic explosion that demolished part of the capital. Even traditional Easter sweets are a luxury few can afford.
“People are not even talking about the holiday”said Majida Al Asaily, a shop owner in Beirut. “We have not seen anything like this year, despite the war and other difficulties we have faced before.”