A handful of priests celebrated Easter on Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
In the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, the church — which had not been closed over Easter for at least a century — has been shuttered to worshippers along with all cultural sites in the Holy Land to curb the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease.
“Easter is a time for life,” said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who arrived at the church under the watchful eye of Israeli security forces.
“Despite the signs of death everywhere, life will prevail as long as someone is giving life out of love for others,” he added, before entering the church.
A few faithful had gathered at the church’s inner courtyard, including one man in an immaculate white gown who had prayed in front of the closed door.
The Sepulchre is considered the holiest site in Christianity, and it typically attracts thousands of worshippers over the Easter weekend.
But the Old City, in east Jerusalem, has been rendered a ghost town following strict social distancing measures imposed by Israel, which has reported nearly 11,000 cases of the novel coronavirus.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day war and later annexed it, in a move never recognised by the international community.