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Pilgrims Celebrate Palm Sunday in Holy Land

Easter Holy Week began at dawn in Jerusalem's Old City, as bells at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher called the faithful to celebrate Palm Sunday. The ancient church is the traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

Worshippers from around the world are marching through a cloud of incense in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher during Palm Sunday mass. They are waving palm and olive branches, marking Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Fears of terrorism have kept pilgrims away for the past few years, but in the wake of the Mideast cease-fire, they are coming back.

In fact, it was the best turnout since Israel-Palestinian fighting erupted four and a half years ago. Justin Bulgis of La Crosse, in the midwestern U.S. state of Wisconsin was not worried. "Always felt safe no fear, no fear," said Justin Bulgis.

Bulgis told VOA that he was overwhelmed to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. "It is definitely life changing, definitely reaffirms what I believe," he said.

It is that kind of faith that gives a sense of security, even in the turbulent Middle East. "Somebody upstairs is looking at me, and hopefully He will protect me, and He will," said Justin Bulgis.

Paul Champoux from the U.S state of Michigan agrees. "Conditions have improved recently, and I am in the hands of the Lord and He told me to come here," said Paul Champoux.

Champoux says the pilgrimage brings the Christian Scriptures to life. "It gives me a lot of historical, cultural background to the Bible, shows how it is set in real history, in real events, real places," he said.

And of course tourism benefits both Israelis and Palestinians.

"So I hope more tourists come," continued Paul Champoux. "They would be blessed and it would help folks here make a living."

The highlight was the traditional Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives, where pilgrims followed the path of Jesus, who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. It was a peaceful start to Easter Holy Week.