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Praying outside Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but unable to enter

Shops at Old Town are closed within the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic precautions in Jerusalem on 23 March, 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]
Shops at Old Town are closed within the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic precautions in Jerusalem on 23 March, 2020 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Two weeks before Easter, a group of Roman Catholic priests gathered before the locked doors of the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Friday chanting in prayer.

Any other year the clerics would be inside the church, preparing it and themselves for the most important festival in the Christian calendar, which Catholics this year celebrate on April 12.

Greek Orthodox celebrations are held a week later, culminating in the colourful ceremony of the Holy Fire, symbolizing the resurrection of Jesus.

But with restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic authorities who share custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are mulling how to balance tradition and safety at the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

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Acknowledging circumstances “that we have never experienced before”, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, this week issued pastroal guidelines for Holy Week.

He cautioned congregations around the Holy Land that celebrations would be “very limited”. But he insisted that while they would be “reduced accordingly” at the Holy Sepulchre, “in our most sacred place (they) will not be eliminated in any way.”

He signed off: “I wish everyone a peaceful Easter as much as possible.”

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