Christian worshippers mark Palm Sunday on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Sunday, March 28, 2021. A year after coronavirus restrictions halted mass gatherings, Christians are celebrating Holy Week together. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Christian worshippers mark Palm Sunday on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Sunday, March 28, 2021. A year after coronavirus restrictions halted mass gatherings, Christians are celebrating Holy Week together. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Christians mark Good Friday amid lingering virus woes

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead, is open to visitors with masks and social distancing

Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday this year amid signs the coronavirus crisis is winding down, with religious sites open to limited numbers of faithful but none of the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the Holy Week leading up to Easter.

The virus is still raging in the Philippines, France, Brazil and other predominantly Christian countries, where worshippers are marking a second annual Holy Week under various movement restrictions amid outbreaks fanned by more contagious strains.

Last year, Jerusalem was under a strict lockdown, with sacred rites observed by small groups of priests, often behind closed doors. It was a stark departure from past years, when tens of thousands of pilgrims would descend on the city’s holy sites.

This year, Franciscan friars in brown robes led hundreds of worshippers down the Via Dolorosa, retracing what tradition holds were Jesus’ final steps, while reciting prayers through loudspeakers at the Stations of the Cross. Another group carried a large wooden cross along the route through the Old City, singing hymns and pausing to offer prayers.

“We have to pray for those who can’t be here,” said Alejandro Gonzalez, a Mexican living in Israel. “Those of us who can be here have a responsibility to keep them in mind and to go in this Way of the Cross that they are going through as well.”

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, is open to visitors with masks and social distancing.

“Things are open, but cautiously and gradually,” said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land. “In regular years we urge people to come out. Last year we told people to stay at home… This year we are somehow silent.”

Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, allowing it to reopen restaurants, hotels and religious sites. But air travel is still limited by quarantine and other restrictions, keeping away the foreign pilgrims who usually throng Jerusalem during Holy Week.

The main holy sites are in the Old City in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank in the 1967 war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem and considers the entire city its unified capital, while the Palestinians want both territories for their future state.

Israel included Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in its vaccination campaign, but has only provided a small number of vaccines to those in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has imported tens of thousands of doses for a population of more than 2.5 million.

In neighbouring Lebanon, Christians observed Good Friday under a coronavirus lockdown and amid a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the massive explosion that demolished parts of the capital last year. Even traditional Easter sweets are a luxury few can afford.

“People are not even talking about the feast,” says Majida Al Asaily, owner of a sweets shop in Beirut. “We haven’t witnessed anything like this year, despite the war and other difficulties that we had faced before.”

Pope Francis began Good Friday with a visit to the Vatican’s COVID-19 vaccination centre, where volunteers have spent the past week administering some 1,200 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to poor and disadvantaged people in Rome.

The Vatican City State bought its own doses to vaccinate Holy See employees and their families, and has been giving away surplus supplies to homeless people. A masked Francis posed for photos with some of the volunteers and recipients in the Vatican audience hall.

Later Friday, Francis was to preside over the Way of the Cross procession in a nearly empty St. Peter’s Square, instead of the popular torchlit ritual he usually celebrates at the Colosseum.

In France, a nationwide 7 p.m. curfew is forcing parishes to move Good Friday ceremonies forward in the day, as the traditional Catholic night processions are being drastically scaled back or cancelled. Nineteen departments in France are on localized lockdowns, where parishioners can attend daytime Mass if they sign the government’s “travel certificate.”

Fire-ravaged Notre Dame will not hold a Good Friday mass this year, but the cathedral’s “Crown of Thorns” will be venerated by the cathedral’s clergy at its new temporary liturgical hub in the nearby church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois.

In Spain, there will be no traditional processions for a second year in a row, and churches will limit the number of worshippers. Many parishes are going online with Mass and prayers via video streaming services.

In the Philippines, streets were eerily quiet and religious gatherings were prohibited in the capital, Manila, and four outlying provinces. The government placed the bustling region of more than 25 million people back under lockdown this week as it scrambled to contain an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Philippines had started to reopen in hopes of breathing life into its suffering economy, but infections surged last month, apparently because of more contagious strains, increased public mobility and complacency.

In Kenya, all churches were ordered to close as part of a ban on large gatherings to contain a worsening outbreak. Joseph Karinga went to his church anyway and prayed outside the shuttered doors, in a garden near a shrine to Mary.

“I will just say my rosary here and go home,” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control map shows new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 11-17. (BCCDC image)
BCCDC says fresh COVID-19 cases down in most Island Health areas

Nanaimo sees its fewest new COVID-19 cases since mid January

Col. Bryn Elliott is the new wing commander of 19 Wing Comox. Photo submitted
New wing commander at 19 Wing Comox

The ceremony was presided over virtually by the commander of 1 Canadian Air Division.

The new childcare centre on Denman Island opened in April. Photo, Comox Valley Schools
New Denman Island childcare facility opens

The facility offers 20 new licensed care spaces

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
AstraZeneca vaccine appointments fill up fast on Vancouver Island

More pharmacies expected to be added as supply increases

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Euthanasia not the only outcome for Fanny Bay cougar

Conservations officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofinosafe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time up-keeping the yard? You may be unintentionally contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Police executed a search warrant at the Devils Army Clubhouse on Petersen road in Campbell River on August 10, 2017.
Murder trial: Victim left to conclude out-of-court settlement on the day he disappeared

Trial of Richard Alexander in death of John Dillon Brown continues in B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Most Read