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Easter Celebrations Peaceful in Holy Land

  • Robert Berger

It was a peaceful Easter in the Holy Land, where a lull in violence brought the largest turnout of pilgrims since Israeli-Palestinian fighting erupted four-and-a-half years ago.

Easter celebrations began at dawn, as thousands of Christian worshippers converged on Jerusalem's holy places.

Pilgrims from around the world gathered for an Easter sunrise service at the Garden tomb in Jerusalem. They sang hymns of the resurrection in a stunning atmosphere, the garden is said to resemble the place where Jesus was buried. Facing the empty tomb, worshippers declared, "The Lord is not here, he is risen!"

Easter mass was celebrated at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's walled Old City.

Priests and monks in white robes chanted the liturgy, as fragrant incense rose above the tomb Christians believe to be the place where Jesus rose from the dead.

It was the best turnout of pilgrims in years, a tangible result of the mideast cease-fire.

"Where we've been, the people have been incredibly friendly, both Palestinian and Israeli, and I haven't experienced any fear," said Dave Moody, who came from the Midwestern U.S. state of Illinois.

Kathy Bridges of the U.S. state of Kansas said it was an opportune time for a pilgrimage.

"We felt comfortable with what existed here, as far as the safety of the Israeli army, the peace conditions. We feel that they're working towards a peace," said Ms. Bridges, and she was glad she came.

"I am thrilled, I am absolutely thrilled, it's a wonderful experience," she added.

Ms. Bridges said walking in the footsteps of Jesus renewed her faith.

"You can actually see the places where he walked, the hills, the valleys, the locations, where they were [in relation] to each other, and it makes the whole Bible come alive," she said.

It was a peaceful Easter that gave a boost to Israel's battered tourism industry, and no one was happier than cash-strapped Palestinian shopkeepers in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.