Easter dawned in Jerusalem with a sunrise service at the Garden Tomb, a holy site said to resemble the burial place of Jesus according to biblical accounts. Pilgrims from around the world sang hymns of the resurrection facing an empty tomb carved into a rock.
A few hours later, Easter Mass was celebrated at the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Priests chanted the Easter liturgy as a fragrant cloud of incense engulfed the ancient stone tomb where tradition says Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion.
“It’s awesome,” said American Coleen Schulte. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience and the Bible comes alive for you. I mean you read it in the United States, you go to church, but now you actually know what it was like and can see it.”
It was a sparse turnout this Holy Week in the wake of six months of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Jerusalem has been the focal point of unrest, and armed Israeli police and soldiers carrying assault rifles patrolled the streets.
But Peggy Howe, who is from the U.S. state of Kansas, was not afraid to come.
“Have you looked at the rest of the world?” she asked. “You look at the news back home and maybe you don’t see the presence of police as much as you see here. But you have the same issues all around the world.”
She said that with terrorist attacks hitting Brussels, Paris and the United States, Israel is as safe as anywhere else.
The Easter holiday, celebrated by Christians around the world, is the holiest day of the Christian calendar. Christians believe Jesus to be the son of God and that he was resurrected from the dead in order to grant eternal life and forgiveness of worldly sins to his followers.
Pope: Use 'weapons of love'
In Rome, Pope Francis challenged the world on Easter Sunday to use "weapons of love" against the evil of "blind and brutal violence," following the attacks in Brussels last week.
The leader of the world's Roman Catholics, presided over an Easter Mass under tight security in Saint Peter's Square.
Afterwards, he delivered his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message in which he asked, "May He (the risen Jesus) draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism … which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world."
Francis also spoke out against the "rejection" that so many migrants and refugees are feeling in Europe, which is experiencing its biggest migration crisis since World War II. "All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way with death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance," the pope said.
The pope denounced terrorist acts in a Good Friday observation, saying they are "committed by followers of some religions which profane the name of God and which use the holy name to justify their unprecedented violence."
The pope's chief alms-giver was on the streets of Rome Friday night giving out sleeping bags to the homeless to show papal support for the city's least fortunate.