Jerusalem - Muslims, Christians and Jews jostled in the narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City on Friday, corralled by police barricades, as the Good Friday processions slowly marched on.
Muslims on their way to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jews heading to the Western Wall were held up in the crowded streets as thousands of Christian pilgrims commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by walking along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for "Way of Sorrow."
Franciscan monks led the way on the annual procession down the route their predecessors had established in the 14th century. Pilgrims halt at 14 stations, each marking an event that befell Christ as he walked, carrying his cross, to his crucifixion.
The final five stations are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Crusaders' basilica said to be built on the spot where Jesus was buried.
A group of men, surrounded by Arab Catholic Scouts, carried a heavy, dark wooden cross on their shoulders, some sweating profusely in the heat. Prayers in Latin blared from speakers.
After the Franciscan monks at the head of the Roman Catholic procession had passed, Israeli police allowed onlookers to join the march. Along the way, they bought small crosses from vendors hawking their wares.
"God wanted me to come," said Renald Richer from Canada, who was visiting Jerusalem for the first time. "I never wanted to come before, I said: This place is crazy, the people are crazy."
Alexandra Josie, from New Jersey, is on a week-long trip to Israel with her son. She said she'd found the cities she'd visited peaceful.
Orthodox and Protestant Christians marched through the streets earlier in the day, with pilgrims in all manner of garb flooding the Old City, carrying crosses of all sizes and speaking various languages.
Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox believers are celebrating Easter this year on the same date, a rare occurrence given that Western churches mark the date according to the Gregorian calendar while Eastern churches use the Julian.
The next time such an overlap will occur is in 2025, according to the Greek Orthodox Church.
"I asked Mary [Jesus' biblical mother], and she told me to come to Jerusalem," said Lena, a Russian Orthodox Christian in Jerusalem for the first time. "God told me I must be on that flight to Jerusalem."
Lena, who had travelled to Jerusalem on her own with a tour group, pulled out a pair of sticks that she said she used to ask God questions.
"There will be many disasters this year in all of the world, in America and Europe. People worldwide need to give glory to God," she said, explaining why she had made the Good Friday trip.
According to Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified on Friday and rose from the dead the following Sunday, when Easter is celebrated.
Jews, meanwhile, are celebrating the week-long festival of Passover, which commemorates the Jewish people's exodus from Egypt.
The Israeli Tourism Ministry estimates that 79 500 Christian and 78 500 Jewish tourists will visit the country during their respective festivals.
Israeli police stepped up security amid the Jewish and Christian holidays, with a wide range of units being put in action, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Various checkpoints were set up across Jerusalem's Old City as security officers redirected confused tourists and residents alike in an attempt to maintain peace.dpa