Christians mark Good Friday amid lingering COVID-19 woes
Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday with religious sites open to limited numbers of faithful but none of the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the week leading up to Easter.
The virus is still raging in the Philippines, France, Brazil and other predominantly Christian countries, where worshippers are marking a second annual Holy Week under various movement restrictions amid outbreaks fanned by more contagious strains.
Last year, Jerusalem was under a strict lockdown, with sacred rites observed by small groups of priests, often behind closed doors.
It was a stark departure from previous years when tens of thousands of pilgrims would descend on the city’s holy sites.
This year, Franciscan friars in brown robes led hundreds of worshippers down the Via Dolorosa while reciting prayers through loudspeakers at the Stations of the Cross.
Another group carried a wooden cross along the route through the Old City, singing hymns and pausing to offer prayers.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is open to visitors with masks and social distancing.
“Things are open, but cautiously and gradually,” said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land. “In regular years we urge people to come out. Last year we told people to stay at home … This year we are somehow silent.”
Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, allowing it to reopen restaurants, hotels and religious sites. By the end of March, more than half of Israel’s 9.2 million population had received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19.
However, air travel to Israel is still limited by quarantine and other restrictions, keeping away the foreign pilgrims who usually throng Jerusalem during Holy Week.
The main holy sites are in the Old City in East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied along with the West Bank in the 1967 war.