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Thousands Retrace Jesus’ Steps

April 10, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Thousands of pilgrims, some lugging large wooden crosses and others fingering rosaries, inched through the cobble stone alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City in a Good Friday procession as they retraced Jesus’ walk to his crucifixion.

Led by brown-robed Franciscan Monks, the tightly packed crowd moved slowly along the the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows, braving summer-like heat. Pilgrims sang songs in Arabic, Italian, Latin and English as they were accosted by little boys trying to sell post cards out of cardboard boxes.

One group reenacted Jesus’ last walk in full costume, with one man dressed as Jesus, crowned with thorns and his face streaked with blood. He collapsed from time to time under the weight of the cross as actors dressed as Roman soldiers whipped his bare back, shouting ``Let’s go, Jesus, let’s go.″

``It was pretty strange to see them do this reenactment. It definitely made this walk seem very much more real,″ said Berth Schneider, 49, from Heidelberg, Germany.

The procession snaked from the place of Jesus’ trial to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried.

Along the way, stations of the cross mark the events of Jesus’ final walk, and Franciscan monks stopped at each point Friday to read aloud what happened, first in Latin, then in English.

``And Jesus was stripped and beaten and Roman soldiers drew lots for his clothes,″ read a monk into a portable speaker hanging from his shoulder at the second station.

Muslim families on their way to noon prayers at nearby Al Aqsa Mosque had to push their way against the crowd, sometimes so dense that they would turn back and try another route.

Friday also marked the last day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Despite the heat and jostling, most pilgrims remained in good spirits. ``Imagine,″ said Karoline Kappler, a 20-year-old from Pforzheim, Germany, ``maybe it was crowded when Jesus was on this walk, maybe it was hot since it was this time of year, so everything we’re dealing with now is part of the whole experience.″

Hundreds of Israeli troops armed with assault rifles were posted along the route. Israel has been on heightened alert in recent days because of threats by the Islamic militant group Hamas to carry out suicide attacks in Israel.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, pilgrims placed silk cloths and Bibles on the slab where tradition says Jesus was placed after his death. One woman, dressed in white, stood smiling in front of the slab with her eyes closed and hand on her heart.

Andrew Hayes, a monk from Valyermo, California, said he was moved by the diversity. ``I’m impressed to see all the nationalities here for the same cause, especially I’m impressed to see all the Palestinians praying together, to see their Christian community in one place,″ said Hayes.

John G. Luck, of Ottawa, Canada, bought wooden souvenir crosses after the procession. ``Incredible,″ he said of his experience. ``Really moving, but I think it’s one of those things that doesn’t truly sink in until later.″

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