JERUSALEM (April 3) — The convergence of Passover and both Eastern and Western Easter has led to tens of thousands of tourists descending on the narrow alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City and its Jewish, Christian and Muslim shrines. A spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Tourism said they expect some 105,000 tourists to visit Jerusalem this week.
On Good Friday, the Via Delarosa was packed with pilgrims carrying wood crosses as they traced Jesus’s steps.
“Just to know that I’m walking on the same path that He walked is overwhelming,” said Rula Pricone, 37, who is visiting Jerusalem for the first time with her husband Michael. “Every time we talk about it, I just start crying.”
Pricone, a Jordanian-born Catholic who lives in Chicago, was visiting family in Jordan when they decided to come to Jerusalem for a few days. Their relatives said it was too dangerous and declined to come. Pricone, who is six months pregnant, is afraid of getting jostled by the crowd.
“My back hurts and then I think about how much Jesus went through for us,” she said.
The Via Delarosa was lined with hundreds of police officers on Friday. Jerusalem police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 2,500 police officers are deployed in the Old City.
“We are imposing heightened security to make sure that all of the religious ceremonies go according to plan and that there are no disturbances in the Old City,” Rosenfeld told AOL News.
On Saturday, the ceremony of the Holy Fire was held in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional burial place of Jesus. On Sunday both Eastern and Western Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
On Good Friday, pilgrims from around the world speaking dozens of languages jostled each other. A group from Sri Lanka sang special prayers as they walked in the streets. Church bells rang as guides tried to herd their charges toward the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
“It’s absolutely amazing. I read about these places in the Bible and then I see them with my own eyes,” said Azeb Ghidey, 46, an Eritrean who lives in London and works as a nanny. “I’m actually speechless. I simply don’t have any words.”
Ghidey had come to Jerusalem with her church, the Mother of Jesus, based in London.
Just a few blocks away, the Western Wall plaza was also crowded. Tourists approached the large beige stones of Judaism’s holiest site, slipping prayers between the cracks. On Thursday, some 20,000 visitors jammed the site for the traditional Priestly Blessing, given by descendants of the priestly tribe from the time of Solomon’s Temple almost 2,000 years ago. The Western Wall, part of an outer retaining wall, is the only remnant left of the original temple.
“Being here for Passover is different than I expected,” Howard Roselinsky, an anesthesiologist from San Diego who came with his wife and two young daughters for a family wedding, told AOL News. “There is a lot of good energy here. We’ve also enjoyed all of the kosher restaurants and it’s so much easier to keep Passover here.”
During the week-long Passover holiday, which began March 28, observant Jews refrain from eating any bread or leavened products. In Israel, it is illegal for supermarkets or restaurants to sell bread although it was widely available in the Old City.