The virus is still raging in the Philippines, France, Brazil and other predominantly Christian countries, where believers celebrate the second annual Holy Week under various restrictions on movement amid an outbreak of infected strains.
Last year, Jerusalem was under strict blockade, and sacred rites were performed by small groups of priests, often behind closed doors. It was a sharp departure from years past, when tens of thousands of pilgrims would descend on the city’s holy sites.
This year, Franciscan friars in brown robes took hundreds of believers down Via Dolorosa, repeating what tradition considers to be Jesus ’last steps, while reciting prayers over loudspeakers on the Way of the Cross. The other group carried a wooden cross along the route through the Old Town, singing hymns and pausing to pray.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on a site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died and rose again, 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 the regular years, we encourage people to go out. Last year we told people to stay home … This year we are kind of 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, which prevents foreign pilgrims who usually flock to Jerusalem during Holy Week.
The main holy sites are in the Old City in East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied along with the West Bank in the 1967 war. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and considers the entire city as a single capital, while the Palestinians want both territories for their future state.
Israeli authorities said up to 5,000 Christian Palestinians from the West Bank would be able to enter to celebrate Easter. Abunassar said he was not aware of any major West Coast tourist group planning to enter, as in previous years, which probably reflects concern over the virus.
Pope Francis began Good Friday with a visit to the Vatican’s COVID-19 vaccination center, where volunteers have given about 1,200 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to poor and vulnerable people in Rome over the past week.
The Vatican City bought its own doses to vaccinate Holy See employees and their families, and distributed the surplus supplies to the homeless. The masked Francis was photographed with some volunteers and recipients in the audience hall at the Vatican.
Later on Friday, Francis was to preside over the procession of the Way of the Cross in the almost empty St. Peter’s Square, instead of the popular torchlight ceremony usually celebrated at the Colosseum.
In France, curfew at 7pm forces parishes to move Good Friday festivities forward during the day as traditional Catholic processions are drastically reduced or canceled. Nineteen departments in France are located at localized blockades, where parishioners can attend daily mass if they sign the government’s “travel document”.
Although a third “light” for the lock is imposed on Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron hesitated to ban travel for Easter weekend, allowing French people to drive between regions to meet with family on Friday.
Notre Dame, which was destroyed by fire this year, will not hold Mass on Good Friday, but the cathedral clergy will honor in honor of the “crown of thorns” in their new temporary liturgical hub at the nearby church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois.
There will be no traditional processions in Spain for the second year in a row, and churches will limit the number of believers. Many parishes go online with Mass and prayers through streaming video services.
In the Philippines, the streets were eerily quiet, and religious gatherings were banned in the capital, Manila, and four remote provinces. The government returned a busy area with more than 25 million people under blockade this week as it tried to stop an alarming wave of COVID-19 cases.
The Philippines began to open up in hopes of halting a serious economic crisis, but infections rose last month, apparently due to more contagious species, increased public mobility and complacency.
Nicole Winfield of Rome, Thomas Adamson of Leeds, England; Aritz Parra from Madrid and Jim Gomez from Manila in the Philippines contributed.