Last Thursday, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was closed as a precautionary measure in the fight against the global coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, Israel imposed strict restrictions on public gatherings of more than two people.

But with Easter fast approaching, the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic authorities who share custody of the Holy Sepulchre issued a joint statement saying prayers “will continue” at the two holiest sites in Christianity.

Father Francesco Patton, Franciscan friar and Catholic Custos of the Holy Land, said in a statement on the decision to continue prayers:

“I think that in this moment our community living in the Holy Sepulchre has the duty and the task to pray in this place for all those who are living around the world. We think that to pray is not something useless, we think that it is something that can really change the situation.”

Patton said it would be impossible to carry out the usual Palm Sunday procession throughout Jerusalem, which typically draws crowds in the thousands of pilgrims. But, he said the “most important” celebrations could be filmed and/or livestreamed like Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and the Greek Orthodox ceremony of the Holy Fire.

“We have to give to Caesar what is of Caesar and we have to give to God what is of God. We respect what is the role and what is the duty of the public and civil power and in the same time we think that the different civil authorities have to respect what is the right of God.” 

Patton is holding out hope for permission to do so, but Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said it was too early to know if it will be possible.

“It all depends on the health regulations. If the situation is going to be the same with no public gatherings – nothing will be going on, not Passover, not Ramadan and not the Holy Fire ceremony. We will have to wait and see.”

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