In Photos: Pilgrims shun Jerusalem on Easter because of 'suffering and death in Gaza'

AFP , Sunday 31 Mar 2024

The main Catholic Easter Sunday service at the Holy Sepulchre Church in the Christian quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, built on what is said to be the tomb of Jesus, was not full.

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa leads the Easter Sunday Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead, in the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo: AFP


The atmosphere was heavy, with few people at the sacred sites, which are usually crowded at Easter.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, led worshippers who bowed down and kissed the marble slab where Christians believe Christ's body was anointed after he was taken down from the cross.

Sister Angelica, an Italian nun from Perugia, said she was heartbroken to see so few people at the ancient church, regarded as Christianity's holiest shrine.

"We were so few. It breaks my heart. But we are like the first Christians, they were few too."

She said pilgrims were staying away because of the "suffering and death (in Gaza)".

With pilgrims prostrating themselves on the marble stone, she said most years there was a crush even to get into the square in front of the Holy Sepulchre Church.

"Look, how (this year) it is empty, even inside," she told AFP.

Mother and daughter Kasia, 33, and Ewa, 60, from Warsaw in Poland, veterans of 10 Holy Land pilgrimages, said they had never seen the sacred shrines so quiet.

"It is no wonder with the war," said Kasia, who spoke on condition her full name not be published. "It is terrible. They are killing children (in Gaza). It is so wrong."

A Nigerian Pentecostal pastor from Agege near Lagos said the war would have not put him off staying for a month.

But he admitted that in 30 years of visits he had never seen "the Holy City so empty. There were more priests than people in the Holy Sepulchre Church on Holy Thursday. People are afraid".

Shopkeeper George Habib in the Old City said Easter, usually his busiest period, "is a disaster".

"There is no one here. It is worse than Covid... It feels that this war is never going to end."

The Israeli war has destroyed swathes of the besieged Gaza Strip, including hospitals and other vital infrastructure.

Since 7 October, Israel's military campaign on the Gaza Strip has killed and wounded more than 100,000 people, 70 percent of them women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Short link: