Christians go to Jerusalem for holy week

JERUSALEM (AP) — With palm fronds poking out of their backpacks and video cameras in hand, streams of Christian pilgrims gathered at the top of the Mount of Olives on Sunday to trace Jesus Christ’s final journey into Jerusalem.
“It would be a good day for Jesus to come back,” said a buoyant Jeanne Jones, a Christian bookstore owner from Cashers, N.C. “It’s sunny and I’m here, and we’re ready for him to establish a peaceful kingdom.”
Christian Arab children carried palm branches threaded with red-and-pink ribbons and carnations. A group of French nuns holding palm and olive branches sang hymns, as one nun rang out the melody on a set of chimes.
Keith Werling, a 30-year-old divinity student from Chicago, took in the sights, leaning against a stone wall overlooking an Arab village where goats grazed on the green hillside.
“For me what is important is to participate in the spirit of a group of believers,” he said. “I am here to walk those same steps in my life as I knew Jesus took here.”
Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on a white donkey the Sunday before his crucifixion, when his followers laid palm branches in his path. The day begins the Catholic church’s most solemn period, the week that ends with Easter Sunday.
The Rev. Jim Butler, a Catholic priest from Dublin, Ireland, walked with a procession of thousands of pilgrims into Jerusalem’s walled Old City.
“It’s a marvelous feeling to be walking where our Lord walked,” he said.
A cacophony of tunes sung in a range of languages blended and bounced off the stone walls lining the steep and often twisting road into the Old City.
A United Nations force from Poland, visiting Jerusalem while on break from their patrols in Lebanon, sang along in Polish when their compatriots walked by.
Other pilgrims gathered at the 800-year-old Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Some worshippers wept when they knelt before the site where Jesus’ body was washed after it was taken down from the cross.
Sandra Kaufman of Portland, Ore., said she was sorry to see the commercialism at the site.
“I was disappointed to see people selling holy water and crucifixes inside the church,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem right to be selling such things at a holy site.”
But Sister Winifred Wheeler of Grand Rapids, Mich., was not disappointed.
Leaning on a walking stick wrapped with an olive branch, Wheeler closed her eyes in wonderment.
“You feel this is the ground where Jesus was — this is it,” she said. “You experience the passion more vividly. The hustle and bustle of the city did not stop when Jesus was crucified, and here we also hear that noise. It is not like the hushed church in Michigan.”