Bitterness as Christians gather to celebrate Easter
JERUSALEM - The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem urged Christians to stand firm in the face of tragedy, as worshippers massed for Easter Sunday at the site where they believe Jesus rose from the dead.
As dawn broke over the Holy City, thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world gathered to celebrate Easter and remember the resurrection and the miracle of the empty tomb.
Addressing worshippers at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal spoke of the suffering gripping the war-torn Middle East, urging the faithful to demonstrate courage.
"Every day in the Middle East, we are witnesses of tragic events that make us even contemporaries of Calvary," he said in an address at the sprawling 4th century basilica which Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe was built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again.
"Let us bury in the tomb of Christ our worldly inclinations, our contradictions, our religious divisions, our hostilities, our lack of faith and our fears ... From this tomb emanated light and peace. And here today, from this battered Holy Land, light and peace must spring out again," he said.
Tens of thousands of Christians have fled their homes in Iraq and Syria over the past year in fear of advancing jihadists of the Islamic State group.
But Twal said Christians were called to the Middle East "to be signs of hope beyond everything," he said.
"Our future in this region and in the world is uncertain and even incomprehensible, but do not be afraid: Christ assured us He is 'with us always, until the end of time'."
In a separate celebration just outside the walls of the Old City, around 1,500 people gathered at the Garden Tomb at sunrise to celebrate the resurrection on a sunny but chilly morning.
There they gathered by a rock-cut tomb which stands in the shadow of a skull-shaped hill which is seen as an alternative site of the crucifixion and resurrection.
Located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, the so-called Garden Tomb was first discovered in the 19th century and quickly became a popular alternative site to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
As the sun rose, the crowds sang hymns and choruses, many of them snapping photos of the entrance to the empty tomb.
"It is just awesome to be here," said a 41-year-old woman from South Korea who gave her name only as Miok.
"The Bible talks about Jerusalem being a house of prayer for all nations and here you can see people from all these nations coming together to worship him at the same time," she said.
Shagufta, a woman in her 50s from Pakistan, described the experience as "very exciting".
"We've never experienced anything like it before, to see all these people from all over the world and to be where Jesus lived and walked," she said.
According to the Gospels, Jesus was crucified and buried a day after he celebrated Passover, then rose from the dead on the morning of what has become known as Easter Sunday -- the most important day of the year for Christians.
Known as Gordon's Calvary after the British general who discovered it in 1894, the garden is situated some 200 metres (yards) outside the Old City walls under the shadow of a rocky outcrop that looks like a skull, and is believed to be Golgotha, which is also known in Latin as Calvary.
Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter next weekend, according to the old-style Julian calendar.