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Holy Week opens in sombre Jerusalem

    Security blockades and a scarcity of pilgrims in Jerusalem put a damper on liturgies as Holy Week opened.
    It was the first time since 1990 that all Christians celebrated Palm Sunday on the same day. Some had viewed the coincidence between the liturgical calendars of Eastern and Western Christians, at the start of the millennium, as a good sign for ecumenism.
    Latin Catholics initiated rites in the early hours of Sunday morning in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. Patriarch Michel Sabbah began the celebration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem at 6:00 am, with the blessing of palms and olive branches in the Angel Chapel. After singing the Hosanna, the procession took place.
    The celebration culminated with the eucharistic liturgy held in the Apparition Altar. At the same moment, the solemn liturgy of the Greek-Orthodox began in the central part of the basilica. The latter's procession was eventually joined by Armenian, Syrian and Coptic bishops and faithful.
    The faithful of nearby neighbourhoods were unable to take part in some of the processions, because of the Israelis' security blockade imposed on Palestinian territories. The absence of pilgrims was notable around Jerusalem. Waji Nusseibeh, a guide in the Holy Sepulchre Basilica, in the Old City, said that recently, at most, he has seen 20 pilgrims at any one time.