image Photo: Reuters

Historic Jerusalem church reopens for Palm Sunday

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City welcomed the faithful on Palm Sunday.

All synagogues, churches and mosques, the in Israel were closed to large gatherings as part of a nationwide lockdown against the coronavirus pandemic on 25 March 2020. Custodians of the Holy Sepulchre said the occasion marked the first time the church’s huge wooden doors were  sealed since the Black Plague in 1349, other than temporary symbolic protests.

The site is venerated by Christians as where Jesus was crucified at Calvary or Golgotha, and the placement of his tomb from which he was resurrected. The land was consecrated on 13 September 335, and a church has been a major Christian pilgrimage destination since the fourth century. It today serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, whose denomination shares custodianship with the Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.

Palm Sunday commemorates the day the gospels say Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was hailed by the people, only to be crucified five days later. The mood was celebratory as scores of worshippers passed through the entry way yesterday, in scenes very different from last year.

COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in recent weeks to permit the gathering of small congregations at Israel’s houses of worship, while social distancing measures remain in effect. This, after both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech  or Moderna Inc. coronavirus vaccines have been administered to 50.07% of Israel’s overall population, equivalent to 72.5% of eligible residents over the age of 16. 55.96% of the overall population have received the first inoculation in the world-beating “Back to Life” vaccination campaign that has helped the country emerge from pandemic closures.

As he emerged from the church flanked by clerics and worshippers carrying palm fronds, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa commented to Reuters that, “Last year was a terrible Easter, without people, closed doors. This year is much better, the door is open, we don’t have a lot of people, but we feel more hopeful that things will become better.”

“The message of Easter is life and love, despite all the signs of death, corona, pandemic, whatever, we believe in the power of love and life,” Pizzaballa said.

The Patriarch later led followers wearing face masks and waving palm and olive branches in a Palm Sunday procession from the Mount of Olives to the Old City.

Roman Catholics celebrate Easter on April 4th this year, while Orthodox Christians commemorate it nearly a month later on May 2nd.