16 April, 2024
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Grim Easter for Gaza’s Christians as pilgrims shun Jerusalem

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Grim Easter for Gaza’s Christians as pilgrims shun Jerusalem

The tiny Catholic community in the war-torn Palestinian territory hold their vigil service even as fighting rages on

MEE and agencies

Palestinian Christians celebrate Easter Sunday Mass at the Catholic Holy Family Church in Gaza City, on 31 March 2024 (AFP)

Christians celebrated a grim Easter in Gaza and Jerusalem on Sunday, with the tiny Catholic community in the war-torn Palestinian territory holding their vigil service as fighting raged on outside.

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, where heavy combat has been raging for two weeks between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters.

The atmosphere in Jerusalem was also heavy, with few people at the sacred sites that are usually crowded at Easter.

Even the main Catholic Easter Sunday service at the Holy Sepulchre Church, built on what is said to 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,” she said. “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.

‘People are afraid’

As pilgrims prostrated 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.


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Mother and daughter Ewa, 60, and Kasia, 33, 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“It is no wonder with the war,” said Kasia, who spoke on condition her full name not be published.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.”

Palestinian Christian worshippers pray as a priest leads the Easter Sunday Mass at the Catholic Holy Family Church in Gaza City, 31 March 2024 (AFP)

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.”

Nuns pray among Palestinian Christians celebrating Easter Sunday Mass at the Catholic Holy Family Church in Gaza City, on 31 March 2024 (AFP)

The war between Israel and Hamas has destroyed large areas of the besieged Gaza Strip, including hospitals and other vital infrastructure.

It began with Hamas’s 7 October attack that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,782 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

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