An aerial view shows a baptismal site known as Qasr el-Yahud on the River Jordan near Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
An aerial view shows a baptismal site known as Qasr el-Yahud on the River Jordan near Jericho in the West Bank
Photo: Reuters
An aerial view shows a baptismal site known as Qasr el-Yahud on the River Jordan near Jericho in the West Bank

A drone's eye view of the Holy Land as Christians look to Easter

Before Israel launched its rapid vaccination drive, there was little hope any Easter festivities will take place; but now, sacred Christian locations are slowly reopening in order to celebrate Jesus's crucifixion and resurrections

Reuters |
Published: 03.31.21, 22:04
Seen from the air, the fragility of humanity as it must have been in the Holy Land in centuries past is plain to see - ancient monasteries clinging to precipices, tiny fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee, deserts gnawing at the edges of towns.
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  • For the Christian faithful, the Biblical journey and legacy of Jesus are written in stonework and monuments across the landscape, straddling modern political faultlines.
    6 צפייה בגלריה
    An aerial view shows a baptismal site known as Qasr el-Yahud on the River Jordan near Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
    An aerial view shows a baptismal site known as Qasr el-Yahud on the River Jordan near Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
    An aerial view shows a baptismal site known as Qasr el-Yahud on the River Jordan near Jericho in the West Bank
    (Photo: Reuters)
    But modern pandemics, like ancient plagues, are no respecters of political and belief systems. For a year the Christian sites of the Holy Land, like the sacred places of Judaism and Islam, were under varying degrees of lockdown or restriction, and bereft of foreign pilgrims.
    Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was the first area in the Palestinian Territories to be forced into lockdown just before Easter last year, closing the Church of the Nativity.
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    An aerial view shows people taking part in a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
    An aerial view shows people taking part in a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
    An aerial view shows people taking part in a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity, during the pandemic, in Bethlehem, in the West Bank
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Other churches followed soon afterwards, including Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre, built over the sites where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
    "Death is stalking a lot all over the world," a despondent Apostolic Administrator Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa said a year ago on Good Friday, known to Palestinian Christians as Sad Friday.
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    The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, leads a Christmas midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Israeli-occupied West Bank
    The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, leads a Christmas midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Israeli-occupied West Bank
    The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, leads a Christmas midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the West Bank
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Throughout 2020 little changed and by Christmas Pizzaballa, by then elevated to Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, still cut a glum figure as he arrived in a rain-soaked Bethlehem for a muted celebration in front of a tiny congregation.
    But on Dec. 19 Israel had begun a rapid COVID-19 vaccination program that gradually brought hope of a freer 2021. At least for Israelis, if not Palestinians, where the vaccine roll-out has been slower.
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    A picture taken with a drone shows an aerial view of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth in northern Israel
    A picture taken with a drone shows an aerial view of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth in northern Israel
    A picture taken with a drone shows an aerial view of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth in northern Israel
    (Photo: Reuters)
    But on both sides of the Holy Land, as the Christian calendar progressed from Christmas to Easter, the faithful began to turn out again in greater numbers.
    At the sites revered as places of Jesus’s early life and miracles there were cautious, masked celebrations.
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    A monastery stands on the Mount of Temptation near Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
    A monastery stands on the Mount of Temptation near Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
    A monastery stands on the Mount of Temptation near Jericho in the West Bank
    (Photo: Reuters)
    In February beneath the Mount of Temptation, where tradition has it that Jesus was tempted by the devil, Jericho priest Father Mario Hadchiti said: "We have high hopes as believers living on this holy land, the land of prophets and saints, that we will overcome the pandemic and return to normal."
    Early hopes that this year's Easter celebrations might be completely free of restrictions proved over-optimistic.
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    Scouts take part in a Christian procession on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation in Nazareth, northern Israel
    Scouts take part in a Christian procession on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation in Nazareth, northern Israel
    Scouts take part in a Christian procession on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation in Nazareth in northern Israel
    (Photo: Reuters)
    But at the start of Holy Week, the huge medieval doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre swung open to admit churchgoers.
    On the spot in the southern courtyard where he had stood despondently a year earlier, a more upbeat, though still masked, Latin Patriarch emerged from the church flanked by Catholic clerics and worshippers before heading to the Mount of Olives for the traditional, albeit reduced, Palm Sunday procession.
    "We feel more hopeful that things will become better," Pizzaballa said. "The message of Easter is life and love, despite all the signs of death, corona, pandemic, whatever, we believe in the power of love and life."

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