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Christians Mark Christ’s Crucifixion With Prayers, Chants

March 24, 1989

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Hundreds of Christian pilgrims wept, prayed and sang hymns along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City in a Good Friday procession that retraced Christ’s path to his crucifixion.

About a dozen devotees carried heavy wooden crosses to symbolize Christ’s walk of agony, and many knelt for communal prayers at the 14 stations that mark the route.

A costumed American group, complete with a thorn-crowned Christ figure, performed along the way. A minor scuffle broke out when Roman Catholic and Protestant groups crossed paths, each demanding right of way.

The turnout was considerably lower than in past years, reflecting fears over the 15-month Palstinian revolt that has torn the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and spilled into Arab east Jerusalem. No major violence was reported.

In the Philippines, at least 11 people were nailed to crosses and thousands of Filipinos drew blood by beating themselves on the back to symbolize the suffering of Christ. About 5,000 people attended in ritual in San Pedro Citud, 40 miles north of Manila.

Pope John Paul II heard confessions from worshipers in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica before carrying a 5-foot wooden cross in a Good Friday procession to symbolically relive Jesus’ final agonies before his crucifixion.

Before the hour-long procession, the pope told the crowd: ″Jesus is near to those who suffer and fall.″

In a comment taken as a reference to drug abuse, he said Jesus ″supports the slaves of vice who after having abandoned the habit, fall again; he sustains those who, having been dogged by tragedies, have doubts about God.″

In Jerusalem, scores of city police and paramilitary border forces armed with automatic rifles, tear gas grenades and riot batons were moved into the Old City to ensure security for worshipers.

The Old City contains sites holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and is part of territory seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

The procession swept through the Via Dolorosa, or Street of Sorrows, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where tradition holds Christ was buried after dying at the hands of the Roman rulers of the Holy Land.

The main procession was led by 20 Roman Catholic Franciscan monks. About 600 worshipers followed, a fraction of the crowd that traditionally participates.

A scuffle broke out when the procession crossed the path of a Protestant group moving in another direction. Police stepped in to stop fistfights, then quickly set up a barricade.

A guitarist accompanied Spanish devotees, whose songs echoed in the narrow alleys. Palestinian Arabs sang hymns in Arabic, a contrast to the Islamic call to prayer that rang out from the Old City’s mosques.

″You just feel you are part of a tremendous movement, this Christian religion, no matter what denomination it might be,″ said John Eberlein of Manassas, Va., who came with 10 other Roman Catholics. ″To see all colors here, all believing the same thing you believe, it’s just very exhilerating, spiritually moving.″

A California group provided the street theater. Ralph Beltran of Los Angeles portrayed Christ, his head crowned with thorns. His companions, dressed as Roman guards, pretended to flog him as he dragged a wooden cross through the streets.

Joanne Petranela of Brea, Calif., costumed as Mary Magdalene, ran among astonished onlookers shouting, ″It’s all my fault.″

A German pilgrim from Munich, who identified himself only as Helmut, termed the show ″a disgrace to Christianity.″

Even though this year’s turnout was smaller, the crowds still proved too much for Gillian Prentice of Melbourne, Australia.

″It is difficult to move around easily, and it would be nicer if it was a little quieter,″ she said. ″You need peace and quiet to pray. I may come back tomorrow.″

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