News Articles

Jerusalem pastors ask Israel for safety at Easter amid rising violence


JERUSALEM (BP) – Pastors of churches in Jerusalem appealed in their joint Easter message for freedom to worship safely in the Holy Land this Easter as violence has mounted against Christians.

In their 2023 joint Easter message, the patriarchs and heads of the churches of Jerusalem noted violence that Christians have suffered at worship services, funerals and other public gatherings, as well as government intervention that limited access to holy sites during Holy Week of 2022.

“For over the past year, some of our churches, funeral processions, and places of public gathering have become targets of attack,” the leaders said in their message. “Some of our holy sites and cemeteries have been desecrated, and some of our ancient liturgies, such as the Palm Sunday Procession and the Holy Fire Ceremony, have been closed off to thousands of worshipers.”

The leaders referenced the Holy Fire Ceremony held annually the Saturday before Orthodox Easter at Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on the premise that a blue light is emitted on that day from Jesus’ tomb. During the 2022 ceremony, the Israeli government limited admission to the ceremony to promote safety, a move which the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate considered a violation of religious freedom, according to the WCC news service.

“We ask the overseeing officials to work cooperatively and collaboratively with us,” the leaders said in their Easter message, “even as we call upon international community and local residents of goodwill to advocate on our behalf, in order to help secure the safety, access, and religious freedom of the resident Christian community and the millions of Christian pilgrims annually visiting the Holy Land – as well as the maintenance of the religious Status Quo.”

Crowds are expected to be at their height during Holy Week and beyond this year as Easter, Passover and Ramadan coincide for the second consecutive year. Prior to 2022, the three Holy days had not coincided in 33 years. Passover runs April 5-13, Orthodox Easter is April 16, and Ramadan is observed through April 20.

Only 182,000, or 2 percent of Israel’s 8.8 million people, are Christian, the U.S. State Department said in its 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom. Three-fourths of the nation’s Christians are of Arab/Palestinian origin.

Most of Israel’s population, 73 percent, are Jewish, followed by 18 percent Muslim, 1.6 percent Druze, and 5 percent categorized as other, according to 2020 data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

The patriarchs and heads of the churches of Jerusalem include 13 leaders of churches including Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal, Syrian Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox and others.