Christians mark Palm Sunday in Jerusalem

By Moshe Edri

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 1 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

Catholic priests carry palm fronds at Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by many to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem's Old city, Sunday, April 1, 2012. Palm Sunday marks for Christians, Jesus Christ's entrance into Jerusalem, when his followers laid palm branches in his path, prior to his crucifixion.

Sebastian Scheiner, Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Hundreds of Christian pilgrims marked Palm Sunday in the Holy Land on Sunday, holding masses and processions retracing Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem.

Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, where he was greeted by cheering crowds bearing palm fronds, according to the Bible.

The day's events began with a mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher — revered as the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Several hundred worshippers and clergy lit candles and waved palm fronds in the dark, cavernous church.

"It's the holiest place in the world for Christians and it's important for me to come here at least once in my lifetime," said Etienne Chevremont, 49, a visitor from Paris who attended the Jerusalem Mass.

Visitors walked down the cobblestone alleyways of the walled Old City carrying olive branches, palm fronds and crosses.

A service was also held in Bethlehem's Nativity Church, built atop Jesus' traditional birthplace.

Later, the faithful marched from the neighboring Mount of Olives into the Old City behind a white donkey, following Jesus' traditional route from 2,000 years ago.

"For us, it is important to make this experience here, to see where Jesus has lived and to see the situation in the Holy Land," said Hans Hekrig, another pilgrim.

The day marks the start of Holy Week, which ends next Sunday with Easter. Orthodox Christians mark Palm Sunday next week.

Israel's Tourism Ministry said it expects 125,000 visitors during Holy Week and 300,000 throughout April, when Jews celebrate Passover — a 5 percent increase from last year.

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