Thousands of Christians from around the world marked Good Friday in Jerusalem’s Old City, retracing the steps Jesus Christ is believed to have taken carrying his cross to his crucifixion.
Through the Old City’s narrow alleyways, pilgrims and Palestinian Christians carried wooden crosses, icons and flags of their respective countries in a procession under heavy surveillance from Israeli police.
Like every year in the runup to Easter, they retraced the 14 Stations of the Cross and walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus Christ is believed to be buried.
Inside the church, Egyptian Coptic Christian pilgrim Sameera Haleem, 52, prayed for protection for her family after deadly church bombings in her country on Palm Sunday.
“Parting with loved ones is very hard but they are martyrs,” she said of the 45 people who died in the bombings in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria that were claimed by the Islamic State group.
“Copts being targeted and killed only serves to strengthen our belief,” she said, as she stood by the shrine surrounding what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus, clutching a piece of paper with the names of relatives she wanted to protect.
“This sacred place is blessed beyond all sacred places,” she said, tears glistening in her eyes as she tried to keep her place next to the shrine as pilgrims poured into the church.
Outside, a group of Russian nuns had stopped, carrying a portrait of Jesus surrounded by flowers.
A group of Catholic pilgrims from India wore red hoods.
Lara, an Australian Christian pilgrim, described the procession as “an amazing experience”.
“We can’t be any happier, it’s like a dream,” she said.
The “Via Dolorosa” — or “Way of Suffering” — includes points where Jesus is said to have met his mother, fallen several times, been helped in carrying the cross, and met the lamenting women of Jerusalem.
The route is situated in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.
Christians made up more than 18 percent of the population of the holy land in 1948, before Israel was founded. They now number less than two percent and are mostly Orthodox Christians.
Police were on high alert as Christian commemorations were under way for Good Friday and as Jews marked the week-long Passover holiday.
On Friday, a 21-year-old British student was stabbed to death on a tram close to the Old City, and her Palestinian attacker arrested, police said.
The victim was identified as Hannah Bladon, an exchange student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report