Thousands of pilgrims celebrated Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, beginning the holiest period on the Christian calendar. Robert Berger has been visiting the holy places and filed this VOA report.
The sound of church bells wafted through Jerusalem's Old City, marking Palm Sunday and the beginning of Easter Holy Week.
Pilgrims from around the world carried olive and palm branches into the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to be the place of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.
Priests and monks in festive red and white robes celebrated Palm Sunday mass in a fragrant cloud of incense. Among the worshippers was Jim Nichols from the central U.S. state of Wisconsin.
"It is overwhelming, emotionally overwhelming, over-joy of emotions. It just reaffirms what I believe," said Nichols.
Palm Sunday marks Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, when according to the Bible, people threw palm branches on the road to welcome Him. Doris Parker, from the southern state of Texas, said she came to Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps in Jesus.
"He knew that His time had come to be recognized as a king, and so He rode into the city of Jerusalem as a very humble person on a donkey, and I think that that says everything for our faith," she said.
It was a good turnout of pilgrims, despite recent violence that includes fighting in the Gaza Strip, and a Palestinian attack on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem 10 days ago that killed eight young Israeli students.
Parker told VOA she would not be deterred by terrorism.
"It was such a tragedy and of course you feel for the people for having to experience that loss, but I do not feel like that impacts my personal safety," she added. "I feel like I am safe."
On Good Friday, pilgrims will visit the Via Dolorosa, following Jesus' path to the 14 Stations of the Cross. Holy Week culminates on Easter Sunday when Christians celebrate the resurrection.