As thousands of Christians from around the world made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem’s Old City on a sunny Easter Sunday afternoon, many expressed awe of being so close to history, as well as hope for a peaceful future.
As he exited the Room of the Last Supper, Hans Putman, a native of the Netherlands who has lived in Bethlehem for the past 30 years, said he was praying for the tens of thousands of persecuted Christians across the Middle East.
“Many Christians are being persecuted in Iraq and Syria, so I am praying for all the Christians in the Middle East to have strength,” he said.
“This is the point of the resurrection – that good is stronger than evil; that love is stronger than hate.”
According to the Western Christian calendar, Easter was celebrated on Sunday, but in the Eastern Orthodox Christian calendar, the past Sunday was Palm Sunday and Easter will be celebrated next week, on April 12.
Since Jerusalem is a place where Christians of all denominations flock to, both Easter Sunday and Palm Sunday were celebrated in the day’s events.
One man in the crowd said that because of the various calendar changes, April is like a “month of Easter Sundays in Jerusalem.”
While purchasing dates from a local vendor inside Zion Gate, Robert Buck of Ohio said that being on Mount Zion on Easter was particularly meaningful considering its proximity to Biblical prophecies.
“Psalm 132 says the Lord will come right here and dwell forever,” he said. “When Jesus held up a wine glass at the Last Supper, he said ‘I will not drink this until I drink it with you in my father’s kingdom,’” he said.
“When he said that, he meant that he is waiting for us, and us for him,” Buck continued. “As Christians, we don’t think much about when Jesus comes back, but when he does, he’ll need a house and a bed, and it will be right here on Mount Zion.”
Kyle Shanklin, a 23-year-old student from Colorado who is studying religion in Israel for three months, described the experience of celebrating Easter in Jerusalem as “priceless.”
“You grow up your whole life celebrating Easter in your local church, so it’s a priceless experience that I’ll always remember, celebrating Easter in the city where it all took place,” he said, moments before entering the Room of the Last Supper.
Classmate Mikey Caplin, 24, of Utah, said being in Jerusalem was a profound experience.
“For me, when we were standing in line this morning for the sunrise service while it was still dark, it hit me: Wow, this is where Jesus rose from the dead,” he said. “It made it feel more real.”
Caplin added that he was taken aback by how welcoming Israelis have been toward him as a non-Jew.
“I said ‘shalom’ to an Israeli woman today and she replied ‘chag sameach,’ knowing I was a Christian, and I thought that was really cool,” he said.
“It was very respectful and kind.”
Nate Ricks, also of Utah, said he was shocked by how many people made pilgrimages from far-off lands.
“People traveled for thousands of miles from around the world just to be here today,” he said. “I think it’s cool seeing how everyone believes in the same God but expresses their devotion in different ways.”
Sisters Julia and Isabella Bertini, who were part of a tour group, traveled from Italy to visit Israel for the first time.
“It’s interesting to see what I have studied,” said Julia, 16.
“This place is very important for us because we’re Christians, and it’s important to make at least one pilgrimage to Jerusalem in a lifetime.”
Asked if she was nervous to travel to Israel, Julia said that despite initial trepidations, she discovered that her fears were unfounded.
“The news in Italy always says it’s crazy here,” she said.
“When I was home my friends said it is dangerous, but when I arrived here I was surprised because it was very calm and peaceful.”
Isabella, 19, agreed with her sister that safety concerns were overblown, adding that she will never forget the feeling of spending Easter in the Old City.
“It feels very mystical to me,” she said. “I will remember this for the rest of my life.”
Ariel Cohen contributed to this report.