Pilgrims flock to J'lem for Good Friday

US visitor put off by local vendors: If Jesus was here, he'd turn their tables over and get arrested.

pilgrims 224 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
pilgrims 224 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Thousands of Christians from all over the world crowded the stone alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City to mark Good Friday, retracing the route Jesus took to his crucifixion. Some pilgrims carried large wooden crosses as they walked down the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrow, stopping at 14 stations that commemorate events that befell Jesus as he was led to his death. Many pilgrims prayed in the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally the site of Jesus's death, burial and resurrection. Some chanted hymns, while others prostrated themselves on a smooth stone slab marking the spot where Jesus's body was placed after being removed from the cross. The crowd in one of the Old City's streets included two dozen members of an American church group from Ohio, dressed in white. Eileen Joiner, 43, from Akron, Ohio, said she was moved to be in Jerusalem. "You see a picture and it looks impressive. You see it in person and it's always so much more," she said. The group's pastor, Janice Skeen, said a recent shooting attack in Jerusalem hadn't deterred them. "You can't escape the feeling and the presence of God here. This is his special land," she said. Police said thousands of security personnel were deployed around Jerusalem because of Good Friday and Purim, which also falls this weekend. Israel banned West Bank residents from entering Israel for fear terrorists might carry out attacks, but the closure also meant many Palestinian Christians couldn't make it to Jerusalem. Samir Helou, an engineering lecturer from east Jerusalem, said there were markedly fewer local Christians in the Old City this year. "We pray every year for a better situation, and then every year becomes worse," he said. "We pray, but God doesn't have time for us," Helou said. Other visitors in evidence in Jerusalem hailed from Spain, Poland, the Philippines, Brazil, and several African nations, some wearing traditional costumes. Anita Ekka, a Catholic nun from Madhya Pradesh, India, said she appealed for an end to conflict. "We pray here for the peace of the world, of the heart and of the mind," she said. One American visitor, Linda Edwards of Perry, Georgia, said she loved the mix of nationalities but was somewhat put off by the countless vendors hawking postcards and religious trinkets. If Jesus were here, she said, he would be "turning all the tables over and would get arrested by the police."