EASTER CELEBRATED AT JESUS’ TOMB
JERUSALEM | Christians celebrated Easter on Sunday across the Middle East, where many are struggling to maintain their embattled communities in the face of war, religious violence and discrimination.
Thousands of worshippers flocked to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
This year the holiday was celebrated on the same day by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox worshippers. The denominations, which jealously guard different sections of the church, held separate services one after another.
The church is located in Jerusalem’s Old City. Worshippers lined up to admire the edicule, the chamber that tradition says marks Jesus’ tomb. A Greek restoration team recently completed a historic renovation of the spot. A service was also held in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, in the Church of Nativity, the place where Christian tradition says Jesus was born.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis lamented the horrors generated by war and hatred, delivering an Easter Sunday message that also decried the “latest vile” attack on civilians in Syria.
Both in his impromptu homily during Mass in St. Peter’s Square and later in his formal “Urbi et Orbi” Easter message delivered from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis encouraged people to hold fast in their “fearful hearts” to faith, acknowledging that many people wonder where God is amid so much evil and suffering.
He cited the explosion Saturday that ripped through a bus depot in the Aleppo area where evacuees were awaiting transfer, killing at least 100 people.
“Yesterday saw the latest vile attack on fleeing refugees,” the pope said, also praying for peace in the Holy Land, Iraq and Yemen.
Some 60,000 people, including throngs of pilgrims and tourists, endured tight anti-terrorism security checks — and, later, a brief downpour — to hear Francis and receive his blessing.
Egypt’s Coptic Christians, meanwhile, marked a somber Easter a week after twin bombings by the Islamic State killed dozens of worshippers at churches in two separate cities.
Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II presided over Easter Mass late Saturday at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, with several government ministers in attendance.
Tawadros had earlier announced during his Good Friday sermon that, as mourning for the attack victims was ongoing, the celebratory aspects of Easter would be canceled this year, including the Easter morning reception.
Last Sunday a suicide bomber was able to make his way to the front rows of a church in the Nile Delta City of Tanta before blowing himself up. In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, another attacker detonated his suicide vest at the church gate’s metal detector after being stopped by guards.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings. Many of Iraq’s Christians observed the holiday in camps for the displaced after fleeing the Islamic State and the ongoing operation to drive the militants from Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.
Pakistan’s tiny Christian minority celebrated Easter amid high security after last year’s celebrations were marred by a Taliban suicide bombing that killed more than 70 people.
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa (center) walks with Christian clergymen holding candles during the Easter Sunday procession at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed by many Christians to be the traditional site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem.
Pope Francis delivers his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world) message from the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Sunday in honor of Easter. Francis prayed publicly for peace in the Middle East, decrying attacks on refugees fleeing Syria.