Thousands of pilgrims from across the world, some carrying wooden crosses and others singing hymns, walked along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday to retrace the route tradition says Jesus took to his crucifixion.
The observances in Jerusalem's Old City came at a time of growing tension between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israeli riot police with M-16 assault rifles and clubs patrolled the cobblestoned Way of Sorrows.Despite the heavy security, the procession took place in a festival atmosphere.
"I feel like I'm at a rock concert," said Jackie Lewis, 20, from Gainesville, Fla.
"It's rad!," said Carrie Warner, a 20-year-old student from Provo, Utah. "It's so cool. It's like a chance of a lifetime. You don't really think its real and then you come here."
The annual procession began in the northeastern corner of the walled Old City, near where the Roman military headquarters once stood. Tradition says that this was where the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, tried and sentenced Jesus before sending him off to crucifixion and forcing him to carry his own cross.
Some Bible scholars say it is more likely the trial and sentencing took place at Herod's Palace at the opposite end of the Old City, and that the Way of Sorrows began there.
Both routes end up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried.
A 20-year-old visitor from Colombia, Dario Augusto Londono, wore a white-and-red robe and had fake blood painted on his forehead and palms. "Today I am representing Jesus in his time and how he would have appeared to all the Apostles," Londono said.
While the Old City was crowded Friday, tourism is down in most of Jerusalem this year because of fears about unrest between Israelis and Palestinians, triggered by construction of a Jewish neighborhood in the eastern part of the city.
Many Palestinian Christians were unable to join the procession because they are banned from entering Israel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The closure was imposed last week, following a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv cafe claimed by Islamic militants.
Elias Freij, the Palestinian mayor of the West Bank town of Bethlehem, said the closure contradicted Israeli claims that it has guaranteed access to the holy city for all religions since it captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.