Palm Sunday, a joyful occasion despite a small number of faithful

While the dawn vanished into the cloudy sky, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal made his solemn entry into the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. It was 6:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and the atmosphere was still quiet.

Before the tomb of Christ, the faithful received twigs that the Patriarch had come to bless. Once they had been distrubed, the procession could begin: three laps around the shrine. The faithful and clergy (Franciscan priests or seminarians) waved their branches in the air. The rustling of the palm represented the joy of the faithful of finally entering into Holy Week. The procession to the sound of “Hosanna, O Son of David” was majestic.

Then, the mass took place at the altar of the apparition to Mary Magdalene. During the celebration, the Passion was sung a cappella by three Franciscan friars. It was somewhat difficult to hear between the Armenian bells and the Coptic chants. Fortunately, however, liturgical books were there to aid the faithful in following the celebration.

The celebration ended while the Greek Orthodox were still singing the Divine Liturgy in the Katholicon for heir first Sunday of Lent. This year, in fact, the Easter date calculations have resulted in a five-week gap for the churches.

In the afternoon, the traditional procession departed from Bethphage at 2:30 p.m. Although one could see Filipino, Polish, Czech, and some Palestinian flags, the crowd was significantly smaller than it had been in recent years. The first that were missing were the Palestinian parishes. Pilgrims were also scarce. We would like to believe that the weather may have kept people away, but the tense situation in the country and economic crises around the world have led to a dramatic fall in pilgrimages.

Despite it all, everything went very well on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. The sun was moving playfully behind clouds and the wind gently rustled the cassocks, surplices, veils and clothes of various colors. The crowd happily weaved their palms to the rhythm of the songs sung in many languages.

Jeries Gina, a Christian, who came from Bethlehem for the occasion, never misses the procession but on Sunday he wanted to highlight “this year’s most pronounced difficulties to attending Palm Sunday as a Palestinian.” He also affirmed that every time he attends, this event allows him to reach a milestone.

Christians of all denominations participated in the procession. Some Orthodox were present, which is commonplace since Palestinian families are mixed between Christian denominations, but even some Mormons were there, such as David, an American, who was delighted with his first “sensational” pilgrimage.

The atmosphere was joyful everywhere, even as folklore meets religious tradition but for Elias, a Palestinian of the Syriac rite, this season is a highlight for him. He summed it up by saying: “I feel closer to God during the procession.”

The crowd arrived in record time to Saint Anne’s. And the parish priest, Br. Feras Hejazin brought everyone into a new joyful tempo by leading the crowd in dancing to the rhythm of Arabic hymns.

The Patriarch concluded the day with a prayer and by giving his blessing.
The scouts’ parade began. Night had fallen when the Christian neighborhood found the silence it had before the beginning of this great week.

T.D and S.C.

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