Christians celebrate Easter in J'lem

Old City buzzes with activity as pilgrims mark Easter, Palm Sunday; Jews gather for 'Birkat Hakohanim'.

palm sunday 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
palm sunday 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Christians prayed at an ancient church and sang in a garden outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as they marked Easter Sunday in the city where they believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The city buzzed with religious activity. Orthodox Christians, who observe a different calendar, marked Palm Sunday, and thousands of Jewish worshippers celebrating Pessah thronged a plaza opposite the Western Wall for a traditional blessing. Roman Catholics held Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed to mark the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected on Easter Sunday. Brown-robed friars marched into the church to the sound of bagpipes, followed by clergymen in purple capes and others bearing crosses. Pilgrims stood by, some filming with small video cameras. The scene outside the church was broadcast to believers worldwide over the Internet by the Florida-based US company "Words aren't adequate to express how moving it is to be in this place at this time," said Mark Walsh, 48, an auto shop owner from Houston, Texas. Donna Hayes, a 40-year-old homemaker from Miramar, Florida, said it was a "special feeling to be here, where it all took place." Another group of pilgrims chose to mark Easter Sunday outside the walls of the Old City at the Garden Tomb, which some Protestants sanctify as an alternative site for the last events of Jesus' life. Protestant groups from the US, the Philippines and elsewhere gathered at the garden, swaying and singing along with a Christian rock band and listening to a sermon from Peter Wells, who heads the Garden Tomb Association. "Risen lord Jesus, the lamb upon the throne, we join with all of heaven in declaring your glory," Wells said. "We welcome you to our resurrection garden, and invite you to have your way among us. As we celebrate today, and as we serve you tomorrow, we rejoice that you conquered sin, death and the grave, and that now you reign victorious, forever glorious." Also Sunday morning, Orthodox priests in black robes and beards and carrying palm fronds filed into the Holy Sepulcher for their Palm Sunday ceremony. The Holy Sepulcher is shared by Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian Christians, along with several smaller sects. Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted by cheering crowds with palm fronds. Not far away, in a plaza opposite the 2,000-year-old stones of the Western Wall, Jews gathered for the traditional priestly blessing, or Birkat Hakohanim, a remnant of ritual from the biblical Jewish Temple. Covered in white prayer shawls, descendants of the Temple's priestly class blessed the assembled worshippers: "May God lift his countenance upon you and may he give you peace."