Editor’s note • The Salt Lake Tribune’s senior religion writer, Peggy Fletcher Stack, is on assignment in the Middle East. Besides her deeper reporting, she is sharing shorter daily dispatches. This one is about Palm Sunday, the traditional start of Christian Holy Week, from Jerusalem.
Jerusalem • Thousands of Christians sang, chanted, trilled and danced their faith Sunday — while waving palm fronds — in a reenactment of what the Bible describes as Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into the city on a donkey.
Palm Sunday drew crowds of believers from across the globe this year to the weatherworn stone paths of this ancient city, hoping for a return to normal after a two-year pandemic battle.
Priests, monks and nuns in brown, gray and blue robes, seminarians in black and purple, Christian-sponsored Scout troops and diverse groups of pilgrims and tourists gathered around 2 p.m. at a Franciscan church just over the crown of the Mount of Olives before the procession.
It was like a Christian dance party as hymns of praise blasted from loud speakers and people took selfies.
Participants then listened to the scriptural accounts of the biblical events and speeches by local leaders, including a young woman who was chosen to offer a “message of the youth.”
“The youth of Jesus’ homeland…are partners in the ministry of the church,” she said. “The church is incomplete without us.”
They then were off on the path, which wound up and down the hills, past the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Lions’ Gate in the Old City.
Shouts of “hosanna” (meaning “save us”) mingled with hymns in many languages — accompanied by drums, tambourines and guitars — filled the air as collections of worshippers shared their spirituality.
A tiny group of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched into one of their beloved hymns, “The Spirit of God,” and many others in the surrounding throngs joined the chorus.
“In a lot of my life, it feels like I am the only Christian in the country,” said 17-year-old Paul Howell, a Latter-day Saint who lives with his family in Jerusalem and attends a state school. “This makes me feel bonded to other Christians.”
Though the route stretched for only 1.2 miles, it took more than an hour and a half to cover it. In the 84 degree heat, I might have lost several pounds of sweat.
But I could feel the joy of these exuberant devotees as they set the stage for Christian Holy Week. It seemed real and palpable. I had holy envy.