This year, in the Holy Land, there is no Easter like any other. There are some special features that make it possible to expect an even greater rush of pilgrims and tourists.
The common Easter date of the Western and Eastern Churches, as well as the newly restored chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, mean that Jerusalem is preparing for a particularly large number of visitors on the upcoming Holy and Easter days. In addition, the Jewish Passover is also celebrated during the week.
The traditional Palm Sunday procession kicks off the Holy Week celebration in Jerusalem on Sunday. The procession, which commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion, will include 30.000 visitors are expected, a representative of the Israeli police told the Catholic News Agency (KNA) in Jerusalem.
A premiere in the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre
The celebrations of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus are celebrated on the same days this year, despite the different calendar systems of Christians of the Western and Eastern Churches. For the first time this year, the central Easter celebrations will take place in front of and inside the newly restored Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Palm Procession is one of the highlights of Holy Week in Jerusalem for pilgrims. At the starting point, the church of Betfage, according to ancient tradition, the stone from which Jesus is said to have mounted the donkey during his entry into Jerusalem is venerated. For local Christians, the procession is also a festive representation of their presence in the Holy Land.
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday
Holy Thursday is followed by the liturgy of the washing of the feet in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a procession to the Upper Room on Mount Zion and a nightly prayer vigil at the Garden of Gethsemane. On Good Friday, Christians of all denominations walk the Via Dolorosa with large wooden crosses in remembrance of Jesus’ Passion.
The Way of the Cross ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where a total of six denominations alternate their services according to a precise schedule. Friday evening will also celebrate the tradition of the Descent from the Cross and Entombment, which has been maintained for centuries by the Franciscans: For this purpose, a wooden figure of Jesus is taken down from the cross on Golgotha Hill, anointed on the anointing stone and carried to the tomb.
The Easter Vigil already on Saturday morning
The church, which has been in the so-called status quo from the 19. Regulations established in the nineteenth century prohibit any change in order and are also the reason why the Catholic Easter Vigil celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is celebrated early Saturday morning.
The highlight of Orthodox Easter celebrations in Jerusalem is considered to be the over 1.200-year-old liturgy of the "Holy Fire" at noon on Saturday. According to Orthodox folklore, a flame is miraculously lit at the chapel, which is revered as the tomb of Christ. The fire is then passed to the faithful in the crowded church and in the streets of the Old City.
According to police, for security reasons, access to the fire ceremony will be restricted again this year to 10.000 people limited. Police expect an additional 20 to 30.000 visitors in front of and around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This year, for the first time, large screens will be set up in the courtyard of the Freres Catholic School to broadcast the celebration.
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism expects a 15 percent increase in the number of tourists for the Passover and Easter holidays compared to the previous year. He said the ministry expects about 80.000 Christian pilgrims for Holy Week, a spokeswoman told the KNA. In addition, an even greater number of Jewish visitors are expected for Passover. In the past two years, visitor numbers have dropped significantly due to the ongoing tense security situation in Jerusalem and the region.
It is still unclear whether Christians from the Gaza Strip will be allowed to travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank at Easter. Israeli travel permits not yet available at this time, according to Gaza City pastor.