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Christians Mark Good Friday in Jerusalem - 2004-04-09

Thousands of pilgrims and local Christians have marked Good Friday in Jerusalem's walled Old City. One of the main events was a re-tracing of the steps Jesus took from his trial to his crucifixion.

As it has been done for centuries, Christians in the Holy Land took part in a march down the Via Dolorosa, a series of interconnecting narrow cobblestone alleyways and streets in Jerusalem's Old City.

This is the route that tradition holds Jesus took after being condemned, and forced to carry his cross to the point of his execution.

Franciscan monks, who have claimed custody of the Christian sites since the fourteenth century, lead this procession, stopping at 14 places along the way, known as stations of the cross. At one stop, a monk addresses the crowd.

The sixth station. Here Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, no appearance that would attract us to him. He was despised and avoided by men. A man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity. One of those from whom men hide their faces. Despised. And we held him in our esteem. May our young people be concerned with remaining blameless in your sight, Jesus. And may they generously follow your call. Amen.

The procession ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on the spot where Christian tradition says Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.

In the last three years, many Christians stayed away at Easter because of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

But Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's top diplomat in the Holy Land, told VOA, this year, there is a noticeable increase in the number of pilgrims.

"It's true. This Easter, they are a lot of pilgrims," he said. "This is a grace for the pilgrims. And it is a moral support to the small flock of Christians here in the Holy Land."

Archbishop Sambi said he hopes that the message of Easter will help end the conflict in the region.

"Celebration of Easter, it means liberation. To walk in the path of God, to re-establish fraternity," he said. "The news departing every day from this land to the world is the opposite - destruction, hatred and killing. All the world has to work to give back to the Holy Land its true mission of love, of life and of brotherhood."

Earlier in the week, the senior Roman Catholic clergyman in the region, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, issued his annual Easter message, calling on Christians to visit the Holy Land. The archbishop said their presence could help end the violence.

And for the first time in four years, more Christians appeared ready to answer the call.