More than 450 Christians from the Holy Land held a pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 23 September to commemorate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, celebrated on 14 September in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Pilgrims from Galilee, the West Bank and Jerusalem participated in the event, organized by the CNEWA-Pontifical Mission office in Jerusalem, in collaboration with Sabeel, an ecumenical theological movement among Palestinian Christians. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, Sabeel “seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians, to promote unity among them and lead them to act for justice and peace.”
The day started with a gathering and breakfast at Collège des Frères, a high school of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Jerusalem’s Old City. Pilgrims from the various towns represented participated in a contest regarding local customs connected with the feast.
The pilgrims were then divided into small groups, and 20 local Christian tour guides and 10 Scouts volunteered to accompany the groups to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where pilgrims prayed and venerated the historic site of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.
After lunch prepared by the Arab Orthodox Women Charitable Society, the pilgrims visited local churches, including the Coptic and Armenian churches, where the Armenian youth group performed traditional dances.
For some pilgrims, all from the Holy Land, it was their first time visiting these sites. Other pilgrims said they came because they were unable to reach the city during the Easter season due to the various road closures, permit requirements and other barriers, described as security measures, to the Old City of Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre imposed by Israeli authorities.
For more than a decade, on Holy Saturday during the traditional and renowned Holy Fire liturgy led by the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities have enforced the closure of the Old City and the church, preventing thousands of local Christians from participating in the event.
This year, CNEWA-Pontifical Mission, local clergy and local institutions held a series of meetings to discuss this issue and to seek possible solutions. The recommendations included organizing a day in the year where Christians from the Holy Land would be invited to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre freely, without roadblocks or harassment. This recommendation was carried out with the pilgrimage on 23 September.
The second suggestion was to produce a video documenting these challenges Christians face during the Easter season in order to raise awareness among the local and international community with the hope of putting pressure on Israeli authorities to reduce the closures and to allow Christians free access to these holy sites.
The video will be finalized this month.
Laura Schau-Tarazi is a member of the CNEWA-Pontifical Mission team and writes from Jerusalem.