Retracing Christ's Final Steps

Singing hymns and carrying large wooden crosses, throngs of millennium pilgrims marched in solemn Good Friday processions, retracing what Christians believe were Jesus' final steps to his crucifixion.

The half-mile Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows, snakes east to west through the walled Old City of Jerusalem, from the Lion's Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

The plaza in front of the 4th-century basilica was packed with people, and the Via Dolorosa was filled almost to capacity, a sign that the stream of pilgrims that started with the new year and peaked during the millennium visit of Pope John Paul II last month has not abated.

A highlight was the re-enactment in costume of Jesus' final walk by 50 members of a Catholic ministry, Christ In You, The Hope Of Glory, based in Brea, California. Playing Jesus, Anthony Rivilla from Los Angeles carried a large wooden cross on his bare back. His face was smudged with fake blood and a crown of thorns sat on his head. Roman soldiers with red-plumed helmets pushed him on.

The group's founder, Joanne Petronella, of Anaheim, Calif., said she felt rushed by Israeli police who accompanied the large crowds, but that she was certain God heard the prayers she spoke along the way for the peoples of the world. "I felt a great communion with God," said Petronella, who played Mary.

Accompanied by monks in brown robes, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah led the official Catholic church procession. The clergymen sang hymns and knelt in prayer at the stations of the Via Dolorosa, each marking an event during Jesus' last walk.

The Via Dolorosa was recently given a $1 million facelift, with workers sandblasting facades and replacing missing pavement stones.

In previous years on Good Friday, there were spaces between the groups and ample elbowroom in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This year, the processions were close together, and the church and courtyard outside were filled with hundreds of pilgrims.

By Ibrahim Hazboun