JERUSALEM – Thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world filled the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem on Good Friday to celebrate on the site they believe Jesus was crucified and buried over 2,000 years ago.
The pilgrims gathered near the fourth station on Via Dolorosa, the street down which Jesus is believed to have walked on the way to his Crucifixion. Then they followed his path through that narrow alley toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where they believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
This year, followers of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches celebrate Easter in the same week, causing members of both denominations to gather in the Old City at the same time. Normally, the churches mark Easter at different times.
Easter this year also coincided with the Jewish Passover holiday.
Christian pilgrims of all ages and nationalities carried large and small wooden crosses, sang hymns and marched toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
A group of pilgrims reenacted the agony of Jesus: One person wore a crown of thorns, with his face and body covered with blood, as two people dressed as Roman soldiers yelled at him to continue walking and a woman urged people to help him.
Israeli police had set up barricades on streets leading to the Holy Sepulcher Church in an attempt to control the crowds. While they succeeded in some areas, in others people forced their way through the barriers.
Police had their hands full not only in controlling the thousands of Christian pilgrims but also thousands of Palestinian Muslims who worship every Friday at Al Aqsa Mosque in the Old City, not far from the Holy Sepulcher Church. Muslims trying to reach the mosque had to take almost the same streets the Christian pilgrims traveled to reach the church.
Expecting violence following Friday prayers, police issued orders banning Muslim males under the age of 50 from entering the Old City and the walled Al Aqsa Mosque compound.
Police in full riot-control gear and carrying tear gas canisters stood outside the Old City and mosque gates, checking identity papers of Palestinians and barring those under 50 from passing through their lines.
Worshipers banned from entering the mosque compound or the Old City held their prayer in the streets outside the walled city.