Thousands of pilgrims pack Jerusalem for Good Friday with Covid restrictions eased

Thousands of pilgrims have packed Jerusalem to mark Good Friday after Covid restrictions were eased following the success of Israel’s vaccine roll-out.

Jerusalem’s holy sites, which tens of thousands of Christians were barred from attending last Easter, were reopened, although remaining travel restrictions meant numbers were limited. 

The masses – wearing face masks – flooded down the Via Dolorosa towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as they carried crosses to commemorate the route that Jesus walked to his crucifixion. 

Meanwhile in the Vatican, Pope Francis visited a vaccination centre where volunteers have spent the past week administering some 1,200 doses of the Pfizer jab to the poor and homeless. 

In Australia, which has had very few coronavirus cases, worshippers took to the streets of Sydney for processions of the cross and were able to gather inside churches without wearing masks.

Catholic devotees in the Philippines flouted restrictions to whip themselves bloody during self-flagellation rituals to remember how Christ was beaten by the Romans before his execution. 

The virus is still raging throughout much of Europe where services were constrained by lockdown rules.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez relaxed the rules today so that people would be allowed to sing In Spain, while in the Czech Republic a newly-imposed lockdown meant congregations were limited to ten per cent.

The fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris remained closed after Emmanuel Macron imposed a third national lockdown, while a lone crucifix standing in London’s Trafalgar Square was the only sign of the holy day in Britain’s heavily-restricted capital. 

ISRAEL: The masses - wearing face masks - flooded down the Via Dolorosa towards the the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as they carried crosses to commemorate the route that Jesus walked to his crucifixion

ISRAEL: The masses - wearing face masks - flooded down the Via Dolorosa towards the the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as they carried crosses to commemorate the route that Jesus walked to his crucifixion

ISRAEL: The masses – wearing face masks – flooded down the Via Dolorosa towards the the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as they carried crosses to commemorate the route that Jesus walked to his crucifixion

ISRAEL: Christians walk down the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering) in Jerusalem after restrictions were eased following the tremendous success of the country's vaccine roll-out

ISRAEL: Christians walk down the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering) in Jerusalem after restrictions were eased following the tremendous success of the country's vaccine roll-out

ISRAEL: Christians walk down the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering) in Jerusalem after restrictions were eased following the tremendous success of the country’s vaccine roll-out

ISRAEL: Christian worshippers take part in a Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa amid eased coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, during Easter Holy Week in Jerusalem's Old City

ISRAEL: Christian worshippers take part in a Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa amid eased coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, during Easter Holy Week in Jerusalem's Old City

ISRAEL: Christian worshippers take part in a Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa amid eased coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, during Easter Holy Week in Jerusalem’s Old City

VATICAN CITY: The Pope visits a vaccination centre in the Paul VI Hall where the poor and homeless are being inoculated

VATICAN CITY: The Pope visits a vaccination centre in the Paul VI Hall where the poor and homeless are being inoculated

VATICAN CITY: The Pope visits a vaccination centre in the Paul VI Hall where the poor and homeless are being inoculated

ISRAEL: Christians carry a large wooden cross down the Via Dolorosa amid loosened covid restrictions following the success of the country's vaccine programme

ISRAEL: Christians carry a large wooden cross down the Via Dolorosa amid loosened covid restrictions following the success of the country's vaccine programme

ISRAEL: Christians carry a large wooden cross down the Via Dolorosa amid loosened covid restrictions following the success of the country’s vaccine programme

PHILIPPINES: A man whips himself bloody to mark Good Friday, the day of Jesus' crucifixion, on the streets of Manila

PHILIPPINES: A man whips himself bloody to mark Good Friday, the day of Jesus' crucifixion, on the streets of Manila

PHILIPPINES: A man whips himself bloody to mark Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, on the streets of Manila

INDONESIA: A Catholic plays the role of Jesus during a Good Friday celebration outside a church in Pekanbaru

INDONESIA: A Catholic plays the role of Jesus during a Good Friday celebration outside a church in Pekanbaru

INDONESIA: A Catholic plays the role of Jesus during a Good Friday celebration outside a church in Pekanbaru

PHILIPPINES: Catholics whip themselves across their bloodied backs on the streets of Manila as they flout Covid rules to mark Good Friday

PHILIPPINES: Catholics whip themselves across their bloodied backs on the streets of Manila as they flout Covid rules to mark Good Friday

PHILIPPINES: Catholics whip themselves across their bloodied backs on the streets of Manila as they flout Covid rules to mark Good Friday

INDIA: Catholics re-enact the crucifixion, with men dressed as Romans surrounding Jesus at Saint Mary's Bethany Convent in Hyderabad

INDIA: Catholics re-enact the crucifixion, with men dressed as Romans surrounding Jesus at Saint Mary's Bethany Convent in Hyderabad

INDIA: Catholics re-enact the crucifixion, with men dressed as Romans surrounding Jesus at Saint Mary’s Bethany Convent in Hyderabad

ISRAEL: Women are seen wearing masks as they carry a wooden cross through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is built on the site where Jesus was crucified

ISRAEL: Women are seen wearing masks as they carry a wooden cross through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is built on the site where Jesus was crucified

ISRAEL: Women are seen wearing masks as they carry a wooden cross through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is built on the site where Jesus was crucified 

CZECH REPUBLIC: eople wearing masks and respirators and pushing wooden rattles walk through the streets during an Easter procession on Good Friday in the city of Ceske Budejovice

CZECH REPUBLIC: eople wearing masks and respirators and pushing wooden rattles walk through the streets during an Easter procession on Good Friday in the city of Ceske Budejovice

CZECH REPUBLIC: eople wearing masks and respirators and pushing wooden rattles walk through the streets during an Easter procession on Good Friday in the city of Ceske Budejovice

PHILIPPINES: A Catholic lies across the road, his back bloodied from self-flagellation, a Good Friday ritual in the Philippines

PHILIPPINES: A Catholic lies across the road, his back bloodied from self-flagellation, a Good Friday ritual in the Philippines

PHILIPPINES: A Catholic lies across the road, his back bloodied from self-flagellation, a Good Friday ritual in the Philippines

AUSTRALIA: A man portraying Jesus carrying a cross during a Good Friday Crucifixion Walk, in Martin Place, Sydney

AUSTRALIA: A man portraying Jesus carrying a cross during a Good Friday Crucifixion Walk, in Martin Place, Sydney

AUSTRALIA: A man portraying Jesus carrying a cross during a Good Friday Crucifixion Walk, in Martin Place, Sydney

INDONESIA: In the wake of a church attack in South Sulawesi on March 28, soldiers and personnel carriers sit parked outside the St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral during Mass on Good Friday

INDONESIA: In the wake of a church attack in South Sulawesi on March 28, soldiers and personnel carriers sit parked outside the St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral during Mass on Good Friday

INDONESIA: In the wake of a church attack in South Sulawesi on March 28, soldiers and personnel carriers sit parked outside the St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral during Mass on Good Friday

INDIA: Catholics offer prayers as they take part in a procession to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday in Chennai

INDIA: Catholics offer prayers as they take part in a procession to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday in Chennai

INDIA: Catholics offer prayers as they take part in a procession to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday in Chennai

JERUSALEM: Christians take part in a procession of the cross along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday

JERUSALEM: Christians take part in a procession of the cross along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday

JERUSALEM: Christians take part in a procession of the cross along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday

PHILIPPINES: A man lies across the ground in Manila to be whipped during Catholic Good Friday celebrations

PHILIPPINES: A man lies across the ground in Manila to be whipped during Catholic Good Friday celebrations

PHILIPPINES: A man lies across the ground in Manila to be whipped during Catholic Good Friday celebrations

BRITAIN: A crucifix placed in Trafalgar Square, in locked-down London, on Good Friday, for the Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary

BRITAIN: A crucifix placed in Trafalgar Square, in locked-down London, on Good Friday, for the Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary

BRITAIN: A crucifix placed in Trafalgar Square, in locked-down London, on Good Friday, for the Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary

AUSTRALIA: A Catholic man acting the part of Jesus takes part in celebrations on Martin Place on Friday

AUSTRALIA: A Catholic man acting the part of Jesus takes part in celebrations on Martin Place on Friday

AUSTRALIA: A Catholic man acting the part of Jesus takes part in celebrations on Martin Place on Friday

CZECH REPUBLIC: People wearing masks and respirators and pushing wooden rattles walk through the streets during an Easter procession on Good Friday

CZECH REPUBLIC: People wearing masks and respirators and pushing wooden rattles walk through the streets during an Easter procession on Good Friday

CZECH REPUBLIC: People wearing masks and respirators and pushing wooden rattles walk through the streets during an Easter procession on Good Friday

PHILIPPINES: A man whips himself across the back as children watch on during Good Friday celebrations in Manila

PHILIPPINES: A man whips himself across the back as children watch on during Good Friday celebrations in Manila

PHILIPPINES: A man whips himself across the back as children watch on during Good Friday celebrations in Manila

INDIA: A Christian takes part in a re-enactment of the crucifixion in Hyderabad on Good Friday

INDIA: A Christian takes part in a re-enactment of the crucifixion in Hyderabad on Good Friday

INDIA: A Christian takes part in a re-enactment of the crucifixion in Hyderabad on Good Friday

INDONESIA: An armed policeman stands guard as nuns walk to church in the Muslim-majority country on the resort island of Bali

INDONESIA: An armed policeman stands guard as nuns walk to church in the Muslim-majority country on the resort island of Bali

INDONESIA: An armed policeman stands guard as nuns walk to church in the Muslim-majority country on the resort island of Bali

INDONESIA: A man playing a role of Jesus Christ is tied to a cross during a performance outside a church on Good Friday, amid the pandemic in Pekanbaru, Riau Province

INDONESIA: A man playing a role of Jesus Christ is tied to a cross during a performance outside a church on Good Friday, amid the pandemic in Pekanbaru, Riau Province

INDONESIA: A man playing a role of Jesus Christ is tied to a cross during a performance outside a church on Good Friday, amid the pandemic in Pekanbaru, Riau Province

Last year, Jerusalem was under a strict lockdown, with sacred rites observed by small groups of priests, often behind closed doors.

This year, 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 and expecting a few dozen.

After the morning prayer service they will retrace Jesus’ final steps along the Via Dolorosa.

‘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.

ISRAEL: Men carry the cross along the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus walked towards his crucifixion, towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by many to be the site where Jesus was crucified

ISRAEL: Men carry the cross along the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus walked towards his crucifixion, towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by many to be the site where Jesus was crucified

ISRAEL: Men carry the cross along the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus walked towards his crucifixion, towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by many to be the site where Jesus was crucified 

ISRAEL: A pilgrim carries a cross along the Via Dolorosa towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a man wearing an Arab headdress walks in the foreground

ISRAEL: A pilgrim carries a cross along the Via Dolorosa towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a man wearing an Arab headdress walks in the foreground

ISRAEL: A pilgrim carries a cross along the Via Dolorosa towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a man wearing an Arab headdress walks in the foreground

GERMANY: A minister leads a socially-distanced service at the Protestant Berlin Cathedral on Good Friday

GERMANY: A minister leads a socially-distanced service at the Protestant Berlin Cathedral on Good Friday

GERMANY: A minister leads a socially-distanced service at the Protestant Berlin Cathedral on Good Friday

ISRAEL: Christian worshippers take part in a Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa amid eased coronavirus restrictions

ISRAEL: Christian worshippers take part in a Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa amid eased coronavirus restrictions

ISRAEL: Christian worshippers take part in a Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa amid eased coronavirus restrictions

AUSTRALIA: Nuns take part in a service at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney on Friday

AUSTRALIA: Nuns take part in a service at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney on Friday

AUSTRALIA: Nuns take part in a service at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on Friday

INDIA: A congregation marks Good Friday at All Saints' Cathedral in Allahabad

INDIA: A congregation marks Good Friday at All Saints' Cathedral in Allahabad

INDIA: A congregation marks Good Friday at All Saints’ Cathedral in Allahabad

CZECH REPUBLIC: People wearing white masks during a Catholic procession through the city of Ceske Budejovice on Good Friday

CZECH REPUBLIC: People wearing white masks during a Catholic procession through the city of Ceske Budejovice on Good Friday

CZECH REPUBLIC: People wearing white masks during a Catholic procession through the city of Ceske Budejovice on Good Friday

SOUTH AFRICA: Members of The Golden Apostolic Faith Healing Mission Church pray during a religious ceremony to celebrate Good Friday in Soweto

SOUTH AFRICA: Members of The Golden Apostolic Faith Healing Mission Church pray during a religious ceremony to celebrate Good Friday in Soweto

SOUTH AFRICA: Members of The Golden Apostolic Faith Healing Mission Church pray during a religious ceremony to celebrate Good Friday in Soweto

PHILIPPINES: Barefoot men flagellate themselves across their blooded backs on the streets of Manila on Good Friday

PHILIPPINES: Barefoot men flagellate themselves across their blooded backs on the streets of Manila on Good Friday

PHILIPPINES: Barefoot men flagellate themselves across their blooded backs on the streets of Manila on Good Friday

ISRAEL: Christian worshippers take part in a Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa amid eased coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, during Easter Holy Week in Jerusalem's Old City

ISRAEL: Christian worshippers take part in a Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa amid eased coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, during Easter Holy Week in Jerusalem's Old City

ISRAEL: Christian worshippers take part in a Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa amid eased coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, during Easter Holy Week in Jerusalem’s Old City

AUSTRALIA: Worshippers at the St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney where there are no restrictions on church services

AUSTRALIA: Worshippers at the St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney where there are no restrictions on church services

AUSTRALIA: Worshippers at the St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney where there are no restrictions on church services

INDONESIA: Soldiers stand guard while people have their temperatures scanned outside St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Jakarta

INDONESIA: Soldiers stand guard while people have their temperatures scanned outside St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Jakarta

INDONESIA: Soldiers stand guard while people have their temperatures scanned outside St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Jakarta

INDIA: A woman reaches out to touch a figure of Christ on the cross during a service in Chennai on Good Friday

INDIA: A woman reaches out to touch a figure of Christ on the cross during a service in Chennai on Good Friday

INDIA: A woman reaches out to touch a figure of Christ on the cross during a service in Chennai on Good Friday

Israeli authorities said up to 5,000 Christian Palestinians from the West Bank would be permitted to enter for Easter celebrations.

Abunassar said he was not aware of any large tour groups from the West Bank planning to enter, as in years past, likely reflecting concerns about the virus.

Abunassar said most Christians in the region celebrate Holy Week in their local parishes. The Good Friday services in the Old City are only expected to draw a small number of people, mainly priests and foreigners who reside in the Holy Land.

At the Vatican, Holy Week events are being celebrated before limited numbers of masked faithful to respect COVID-19 health and social distancing norms.

In France, a nationwide 7pm 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.’

Although a third lockdown ‘light’ is being imposed Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron has wavered on a travel ban for Easter weekend, allowing the French to drive between regions to meet up with family on Friday. 

INDONESIA: Men playing Roman soldiers and a man acting the role of Jesus outside a church in Pekanbaru during a Catholic celebration of Good Friday

INDONESIA: Men playing Roman soldiers and a man acting the role of Jesus outside a church in Pekanbaru during a Catholic celebration of Good Friday

INDONESIA: Men playing Roman soldiers and a man acting the role of Jesus outside a church in Pekanbaru during a Catholic celebration of Good Friday

INDIA: A woman reads an order of service at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Prayagraj on Good Friday

INDIA: A woman reads an order of service at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Prayagraj on Good Friday

INDIA: A woman reads an order of service at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Prayagraj on Good Friday

GERMANY: Worshippers wearing masks bow their heads during a service at the Protestant Berlin Cathedral

GERMANY: Worshippers wearing masks bow their heads during a service at the Protestant Berlin Cathedral

GERMANY: Worshippers wearing masks bow their heads during a service at the Protestant Berlin Cathedral

INDIA: A woman kneels and prays at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Prayagraj on Friday

INDIA: A woman kneels and prays at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Prayagraj on Friday

INDIA: A woman kneels and prays at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Prayagraj on Friday

PHILIPPINES: Barefoot flagellants whip their bloodied backs as penance outside a closed church, defying government orders to avoid religious gatherings and stay home to curb the spread of the coronavirus

PHILIPPINES: Barefoot flagellants whip their bloodied backs as penance outside a closed church, defying government orders to avoid religious gatherings and stay home to curb the spread of the coronavirus

PHILIPPINES: Barefoot flagellants whip their bloodied backs as penance outside a closed church, defying government orders to avoid religious gatherings and stay home to curb the spread of the coronavirus

PHILIPPINES: The replica of the Black Nazarene is taken on a pickup truck around a village to mark Good Friday in Quezon City, Metro Manila

PHILIPPINES: The replica of the Black Nazarene is taken on a pickup truck around a village to mark Good Friday in Quezon City, Metro Manila

PHILIPPINES: The replica of the Black Nazarene is taken on a pickup truck around a village to mark Good Friday in Quezon City, Metro Manila

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 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 stemming a severe economic crisis, but infections surged last month, apparently because of more contagious strains, increased public mobility and complacency.

In Australia, masked churchgoers sat in rows of socially distanced chairs at a street in Sydney as actor Timothy Watkins carried a cross in his portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ during a Good Friday observance.

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