Christians sing hallelujah to mark Easter in Jerusalem

Palestinian Christian: 'We need leaders who are ready to offer their lives for the sake of peace not leaders who issue orders to kill.'

easter sunday 224 88 ap (photo credit: )
easter sunday 224 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Undeterred by recent violence, Christians from around the world sang and prayed to mark Easter Sunday at a Jerusalem church believed to be built on the site where Jesus rose from the dead. Polish men in feathered fur hats, Indian women in saris and Palestinian clergy in white and gold robes found shelter from sweltering heat in the cool cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City. The outgoing Roman Catholic leader in the Holy Land, Patriarch Michel Sabbah, criticized Israelis and Palestinians responsible for recent bloodshed, including Israeli military operations, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and a fatal shooting attack on a Jewish religious seminary. "Despite this, there are hundreds of thousands in both the Palestinian and Israeli societies who send an outcry: peace peace," Sabbah, a Palestinian, said in a sermon. "We need leaders who are ready to offer their lives for the sake of peace, not leaders who issue orders to kill and assassinate and send others to kill or to get killed." Sabbah, 75, who has announced his impending retirement, and dozens of clergymen in gold-embroidered capes circled the candlelit rotunda where believers say Jesus was buried and then rose from the dead. Stern-faced ushers led the procession, striking the ground with large silver-topped staffs, forcing the throngs of pilgrims to move back to spare their feet. Hundreds of worshippers crowded around priests who offered communion under the largest dome in the church, which was originally built in the 4th century by Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine. Rays of bright sunshine shone through windows that form the shape of a star. Tamera Perry, 39, a high school teacher from Silver City, New Mexico, said she planned to videotape the Easter Mass and send it over the Internet to her church at home, where it would be shown at the Easter service. She hoped to transmit something of the experience of being in Jerusalem for the holiday, Perry said. "I get a real sense of the surroundings here, being where Jesus walked and walking the hills that he walked," she said. Israeli security had deployed thousands of officers nationwide to secure events connected with Easter and the Jewish festival of Purim, which was ending Sunday. The alert was also high because of Israeli concerns about a possible revenge attack for the assassination of a Hezbollah commander last month in Syria. Jeri Minasy, 59, a retired flight attendant from Newnan, Georgia, said the recent bloodshed couldn't deter her from spending Easter in Jerusalem. She called the experience "special, mystic and spiritual." But she wondered what Jesus would think about the bloodshed. "I think he would be appalled that people can't get along. He would be crying," Minasy said. Protestants, who venerate a spot outside the Old City known as the Garden Tomb as the site of Jesus' burial, gathered there early Sunday to sing songs accompanied by a rock band. Some raised their hands and swayed to the music. "We can say that resurrection day was the happiest day in history," Peter Wells, the site's chaplain, told the crowd, speaking at a podium bearing the words, "Jesus Is Alive." "So once again, the Lord is risen," Wells said, and the assembled believers answered in unison: "The Lord is risen indeed, hallelujah!" US Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in Jerusalem on Sunday, marked Easter with a service at the US consulate before setting out for a day of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.