Grim Easter for Gaza's Christians, Jerusalem churches empty

Grim Easter for Gaza's Christians, Jerusalem churches empty
Christians in Gaza celebrated Easter as Israel's brutal military assault continued, while pilgrims avoided Jerusalem due to the war, leaving its churches empty.
3 min read
Gaza's Christians celebrated Easter as Israeli attacks continued [Getty]

Christians celebrated a grim Easter in Gaza and Jerusalem Sunday, with the tiny Catholic community in the devastated Palestinian territory holding their vigil service as Israeli attacks continued.

Around 100 people gathered by candlelight on Saturday night at the Holy Family Church in Gaza City in the famine-threatened north to mark the resurrection, when Christians believe Christ rose from the dead.

The church is a short drive from Al-Shifa hospital which has been under a sustained Israeli assault for two weeks, with over 400 people killed according to Gaza's government media office.

The atmosphere in occupied East Jerusalem was equally heavy, with few people at the sacred sites which are usually crowded at Easter.

Even the main Catholic Easter Sunday service at the Holy Sepulchre Church - built on what is said be the tomb of Jesus - was not full.

Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, led worshippers who bowed down and kissed the marble slab where Christians believe Christ's body was anointed after he was taken down from the cross.

Sister Angelica, an Italian nun from Perugia, said she was heartbroken to see so few people at the ancient church, regarded as Christianity's holiest shrine.

"We were so few. It breaks my heart. But we are like the first Christians, they were few too."

She said pilgrims were staying away because of the "suffering and death [in Gaza]".

Israel's relentless and indiscriminate military campaign has killed 32,782 people, most of them women and children, with hospitals, schools, and residential areas targeted and destroyed.

With pilgrims prostrating themselves on the marble stone, she said most years there was a crush even to get into the square in front of the Holy Sepulchre Church.

"Look, how (this year) it is empty, even inside," she told AFP.

Mother and daughter Kasia, 33, and Ewa, 60, from Warsaw in Poland - veterans of 10 Holy Land pilgrimages -- said they had never seen the sacred shrines so quiet.

"It is no wonder with the war," said Kasia, who spoke on condition her full name not be published. "It is terrible. They are killing children [in Gaza]. It is so wrong."

A Nigerian Pentecostal pastor from Agege near Lagos said the war would had not put him off staying for a month.

But he admitted that in 30 years of visits he had never seen "the Holy City so empty. There were more priests than people in the Holy Sepulchre Church on Holy Thursday. People are afraid".

Shopkeeper George Habib in the Old City said Easter - usually his busiest period - "is a disaster".

"There is no one here. It is worse than Covid... It feels that this war is never going to end."