Defying ban, Egypt’s Coptic Christians flock to Jerusalem
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Defying ban, Egypt’s Coptic Christians flock to Jerusalem

Nearly 6,000 pilgrims visit Israel for Orthodox Easter season, down from about 15,000 three years ago

Greek Orthodox priests hold palm branches as they circle the aedicule during the Palm Sunday Easter procession at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on April 24, 2016 (AFP/Gali Tibbon)
Greek Orthodox priests hold palm branches as they circle the aedicule during the Palm Sunday Easter procession at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on April 24, 2016 (AFP/Gali Tibbon)

Despite a decades-old ban by the Egyptian Coptic Church, its members have been flocking to Jerusalem over the past few years, especially during the Easter season.

Some 5,500 Coptic Christians have made their way to Israel for the pilgrimage this year, the Haaretz daily reported Thursday. That figure is a significant drop from three years ago, when it was estimated that 15,000 Copts, who follow the Julian calendar, arrived for the Easter season.

Egyptian Copts were forbidden from visiting Israel by their late pope Shenouda III, who put the prohibition in place to protest Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem. Shenouda passed away in March 2012 at the age of 88, after leading the church for 40 years.

Later that year, the church selected Pope Tawadros II as the new pope. According to the Egyptian news site Ahram Online, Tawadros also opposes pilgrimages to Jerusalem, but has refrained from enforcing the ban and thus paved the way for the thousands of pilgrims.

The leader of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II walks outside the Church of Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)
The leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II walks outside the Church of Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

Tawadros himself broke the ban in 2015 when he made a rare visit to Israel to attend the funeral of a senior church official in Jerusalem.

The Coptic Church, however, insisted at the time his visit was not an official one.

“The visit is to attend the funeral and nothing more,” church spokesman Boulos Halim said last November. “The position of the church remains unchanged, which is not going to Jerusalem without all our Egyptian [Muslim] brothers.”

A 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty ended hostilities between the two neighbors. But anti-Israel sentiments still run high in Egypt and many there have accused Tawadros of betrayal.

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