JERUSALEM — In the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday morning, in the alleys of the Christian quarter, it was as if the pandemic had never happened.
The winding passageways that form the Via Dolorosa, along which Christians believe Jesus hauled his cross toward his crucifixion, were packed with over 1,000 worshipers. The Good Friday procession, where the faithful retrace the route Jesus is said to have taken, was back.
“It is like a miracle,” said the Rev. Amjad Sabbara, a Roman Catholic priest who helped lead the procession. “We’re not doing this online. We’re seeing the people in front of us.”
Pandemic restrictions forced the cancellation of last year’s ceremony and required priests to hold services without congregants present. Now, thanks to Israel’s world-leading vaccine rollout, religious life in Jerusalem is edging back to normal. And on Friday, that brought crowds back to the city’s streets, and relief to even one of Christianity’s most solemn commemorations: the Good Friday procession.
For much of the past year, the pandemic kept the Old City eerily empty. But with nearly 60 percent of Israeli residents fully vaccinated, the city’s streets were once again thrumming, even if international tourists were still absent.
At the gathering point for the procession on Friday, there was scarcely space to stand. The crowd moved slowly off, singing mournful hymns as they proceeded along what Christians consider a re-enactment of Jesus’ last steps.
In the alley outside the chapel of St. Simon of Cyrene, the marchers trailed their fingers over an ocher limestone in the chapel wall. According to tradition, Jesus steadied himself against the stone after a stumble.
Finally, they reached the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which believers think was the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and, ultimately, resurrection.
For some, the Good Friday procession carried even more resonance than usual — its themes of suffering, redemption and renewal seeming particularly symbolic as the end of a deadly pandemic appeared finally in sight.
“We have gained hope again,” said George Halis, 24, who is studying to be a priest and who lives in the Old City. “Last year was like a darkness that came over all of earth.”
But for now, that togetherness continues to face limits. There are still restrictions on the number of worshipers at Easter services. Masks are still a legal requirement. And foreigners still need an exemption to enter Israel — keeping out thousands of pilgrims, at the expense of local shopkeepers who depend on their business.
JERUSALEM — On Friday morning, in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the limestone alleys of the Christian quarter, it was as if the pandemic had never happened.
The winding passageways that form the Via Dolorosa, along which Christians believe Jesus hauled his cross toward his crucifixion, were packed with over 1,000 worshipers. In the covered market, the air smelled of incense and echoed with Christian hymns. The Good Friday procession, where the faithful retrace the route Jesus is said to have taken, was back.
“It is like a miracle,” said the Rev. Amjad Sabbara, a Roman Catholic priest who helped lead the procession. “We’re not doing this online. We’re seeing the people in front of us.”
world-leading vaccine rollout, religious life in Jerusalem is edging back to normal. And on Friday, that brought crowds once again to the city’s streets, and relief to even one of Christianity’s most solemn commemorations: the Good Friday procession.
designed the neighborhood’s street signs. “The locals can celebrate, yes. But something is still missing.”
The mood among Christians a few miles away, in the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, was even less jubilant. Christians in the occupied territories can visit Jerusalem only with a special permit, which has become even harder to procure during the pandemic. While most Israelis are now vaccinated, the vast majority of Palestinians haven’t received a dose.
Israel has supplied vaccines to more than 100,000 Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, almost all of whom work in Israel or West Bank settlements. Palestinian officials have obtained around 150,000 more doses.
says it isn’t obliged to vaccinate the rest of the Palestinian population, citing a clause of the Oslo peace accords of the 1990s, which transferred health care duties to Palestinian officials. Critics say it is still Israel’s responsibility to help, citing international legislation that requires an occupying power to oversee health care for occupied populations, as well as a separate clause of the Oslo accords that says Israel must work with Palestinians during epidemics.
Either way, infection rates are still high in the occupied territories and vaccination rates are low — and that has limited the number of Palestinian Christians granted permission to enter Jerusalem for Easter this year. A spokesperson for the Israeli government declined to reveal the final number.
“Without permits, we cannot come,” said the Rev. Jamal Khader, the Roman Catholic parish priest in Ramallah. “It’s a sign of the continuous presence of occupation and the limitations on movement.”
But Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection still provide spiritual nourishment for a despondent population, said Father Khader, who is allowed to enter Jerusalem through his work with the church.
“We identify with the sufferings of Christ on Good Friday,” he said.
“Then,” he added, “we find some hope on Easter Sunday.”
Sister Janice McLaughlin, an American nun who was imprisoned by the white minority government in war-torn Rhodesia for exposing atrocities against its Black citizens, then returned to help the new country of Zimbabwe establish an educational system, died on March 7 in the motherhouse of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, near Ossining, N.Y. She was 79.
Her religious order, of which she was president for a time, announced her death. It did not provide a cause.
Sister McLaughlin spent nearly 40 years ministering in Africa. She lived much of that time in Zimbabwe, starting in 1977, when the country was still known as Rhodesia.
She arrived in the midst of a seven-year struggle by Black nationalists to overthrow the white minority apartheid-style regime headed by Prime Minister Ian Smith, a fierce opponent of Black majority rule.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, a group of laymen and clergy that opposed the government, Sister McLaughlin helped expose human rights abuses across the country. These included the systematic torture of Black people in rural areas and the shooting of innocent civilians, including clergy. She also wrote about the forced resettlement of nearly 600,000 Black citizens, who had been held in heavily guarded camps in overcrowded conditions lacking proper sanitation and food.
Just three months after her arrival, she was charged with being a terrorist sympathizer and locked in solitary confinement for 18 days. She faced a penalty of seven years in prison, but the United States interceded, and she was instead deported.
Her writings had been published in obscure journals, but her imprisonment drew widespread attention; the Vatican, the United Nations and the State Department spoke out on her behalf. On the day she was thrown out of the country and walked across the tarmac to the plane that would take her out of Rhodesia, a group of about 50 Black and white Rhodesians, many of them priests and nuns, gathered at the airport, cheered her on and sang the Black nationalist anthem, “God Bless Africa.”
On the flight out, Sister McLaughlin told The New York Times that she was not a Marxist, as the Smith regime had alleged, but that she did support the guerrillas.
“I think it’s come to the point where it’s impossible to bring about change without the war,” she said, “and I support change.”
Robert Mugabe as the new president. Before he would plunge the once-wealthy nation into chaos, corruption and economic ruin, he asked for her help in rebuilding the educational system, and she readily agreed. Among other things, she established nine schools for former refugees and war veterans.
When she died, she was eulogized by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s successor.
“She chose,” he said in a statement, “to leave an otherwise quiet life of an American nun to join rough and dangerous camp life in the jungles of Mozambique, where she worked with refugees in our education department.”
Her presence, he added, “helped give the liberation struggle an enhanced international voice and reach.”
Janice McLaughlin was born on Feb. 13, 1942, in Pittsburgh to Paul and Mary (Schaub) McLaughlin and grew up there. She graduated from high school in 1960 and attended St. Mary of the Springs College in Columbus, Ohio, for a year, then entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation in Maryknoll, N.Y., near the Hudson River village of Ossining, north of New York City.
The order, founded in 1912, was the first American congregation of Catholic nuns dedicated to overseas missions.
told The Times in 2013. “We try to live simply with the people. As Mother Mary Joseph said to us, ‘If anybody’s going to change, it’s going to be us.’”
She worked in the Maryknoll Sisters communications office from 1964 to 1968 and organized a “war against poverty” program in Ossining. Moving to Milwaukee, she earned her bachelor’s degree in theology, anthropology and sociology from Marquette University in 1969.
Then came her dream assignment — to work in Kenya, where she ran courses in journalism for church-sponsored programs. At the same time, she studied the anticolonial struggles going on across the continent.
Much of her work in Rhodesia consisted of documenting massacres. When her office was raided by the government, two colleagues who had also been arrested were released on bail, but she was held as a dangerous communist subversive. “If I had Black skin,” she had written in her diary, “I would join ‘the boys,’” using the common term for the Black freedom fighters. She believed in the redistribution of wealth to redress past injustices.
a recent remembrance by Robert Ellsberg, publisher of Orbis Books, an imprint of the Maryknoll Order.
“I was suffering for a cause, and the pain and fear no longer mattered,” she added. “I was not alone. I was with the oppressed people, and God was there with us in our prison cells.”
ROME — In an effort to contain costs and save jobs amid a slump in tourist dollars and donations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis has ordered across-the-board pay cuts for the cardinals and other higher-ranking clerics working in the Vatican.
Cardinals will see their income trimmed by 10 percent, according to a decree published Wednesday. The superiors of Vatican departments will have their salaries reduced by 8 percent, while 3 percent cuts will be applied to upper-level priests and nuns. A two-year salary freeze has been imposed on other employees at higher pay grades.
The pandemic has “negatively influenced all sources of income for the Holy See and Vatican City State,” Francis wrote in an apostolic letter. “A sustainable economic future requires today, among other decisions, adopting measures that also concern employee salaries.”
The cuts, which go into effect on April 1, affect only the employees of the Holy See, Vatican City and associated institutions, including the Vicariate of Rome. They will not apply to Vatican personnel who can prove that they cannot sustain the costs of personal medical care or that of close family members.
an interview with the Vatican’s news portal two weeks ago. He said that cost-cutting had reduced travel, overtime and meeting expenses and had led to the postponement of renovations and some purchases. But the Vatican has not cut jobs.
“Pope Francis insists that saving money does not have to mean laying off employees; he is very sensitive to the plight of families,” he said.
The Holy See’s income comes from real estate management, investments and donations. Vatican City State has a separate budget and gets part of its revenue from the Vatican Museums, which had 6.7 million visitors in 2019, according to The Art Newspaper. The museums were open on and off last year because of the pandemic. Of the 1.3 million visitors last year, a million came before the national lockdown started in early March 2020.
“The expenses budgeted for 2021 are the lowest in the recent history of the Holy See, but the savings have been made without decreasing the service to the pope’s mission and defending salaries and jobs for employees,” Father Guerrero Alves said. “We need the support of the faithful.”
Pope Francis is struggling to manage powerful bishops in the U.S. and Germany, two groups at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, as he tries to advance his progressive agenda without jeopardizing the unity of the Catholic Church.
The election of President Biden, a progressive Catholic whom some U.S. bishops want to censure for his support of abortion rights, has exacerbated longstanding tensions between the pope and the largely conservative American episcopate. U.S. church leaders have resisted promoting the pope’s priorities of social and economic justice and care for the environment over opposition to abortion and defense of religious freedom.
On the left, the pope is trying to rein in German bishops who—encouraged by the pope’s liberalizing gestures on topics including sexuality, ecumenism and the role of women—are pressing for changes that go further than Pope Francis is comfortable with, and that conservatives warn could cause a schism.
Pope Francis’ most recent attempt to restrain the Germans came in this week’s Vatican document forbidding clergy to bless same-sex unions, a practice supported by some leading German bishops.
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Each country presents “a different set of issues, a different set of struggles but I think some of the underlying dynamics are the same,” said Adam DeVille, a professor of theology at Indiana’s University of Saint Francis. “In both cases, the pope I think is really trying to say, ‘come on guys, let’s rein it in here, let’s get back into the same lane all together.’”
For years, a minority of U.S. bishops closely associated with Pope Francis have pressed for greater adherence to his social agenda. In November 2019, the last time the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in person, liberals protested a statement in the conference’s voter guide describing opposing abortion as its “pre-eminent priority.”
In response to a request for comment from The Wall Street Journal, the USCCB said, “Advocacy for the poor and marginalized, migrants, people on death row, the unborn, and everyone in need of God’s mercy is central to the mission of the USCCB, and in this, there is an unbreakable unity with the Holy Father.”
Following Mr. Biden’s election, Pope Francis broke protocol by phoning to congratulate the president-elect. But on inauguration day, Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, said, “Our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender.”
Meanwhile, some bishops say Mr. Biden’s abortion stance makes him ineligible to receive the Eucharist.
“I do not think he should be presenting himself for Communion,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. “If I knew he were coming and planning to attend Mass, I’d engage in a conversation with him ahead of time to clarify that.”
Asked about the archbishop’s statement, a White House official said on Friday that it was a private matter.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, a progressive who as archbishop of Washington, D.C., is Mr. Biden’s pastor, has said that the president may continue to receive Communion there.
For Mr. DeVille, the disagreement over how to handle Mr. Biden exemplifies a larger trend: “The U.S. bishops are hardening in some ways into, not totally divergent paths, but clearly different paths…with differently ranked priorities from the pope,” he said, noting that Pope Francis is 84 years of age and perhaps approaching the end of his pontificate. “A lot of the American bishops, especially those on the younger side, are just going to wait him out.”
Meanwhile in Germany, bishops and leading lay Catholics are engaged in a national synod considering major changes to church life, including the possibility of women clergy, married priests and changes to church teaching on sexuality.
This week’s Vatican statement that clergy may not bless same-sex relationships because God “cannot bless sin,” which contrasted with the pope’s conciliatory approach to homosexuality, was meant specifically as a message to Germany, said Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert who writes for Italy’s L’Espresso magazine. Conservative bishops in both the U.S. and Germany have warned that the German synod could lead the church into a split with the rest of the Catholic world.
The statement drew defiant reactions from clergy in Germany and beyond, including Austria and Belgium, with some priests vowing to bless gay couples despite the prohibition.
“The danger is that the German church, if permitted, will become an autonomous church deviating on important points of doctrine,” Mr. Magister said. “This explains why the pope is putting on the brakes.”
Mr. Magister also saw a warning to Germany in the pope’s decision in February 2020 not to loosen requirements for priestly celibacy or allow the ordination of women deacons in Latin America’s Amazon region, despite his earlier indications of openness to those possibilities to address a serious shortage of clergy there.
Vatican offices have also recently issued statements that rule out giving Communion to Protestants or allowing laypeople to administer parishes on an equal basis with priests, both ideas popular with German bishops.
According to Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology at Villanova University, Pope Francis prefers to delegate the delivering of messages that his progressive supporters will find disagreeable.
“When there are gestures of welcoming and so on, it is Francis that does them. When there is some bad news, he lets the CDF,” Mr. Faggioli said, referring to the Vatican’s doctrinal office.
Despite disappointment in Germany with the statement on gay couples, liberals there retain an overwhelmingly positive view of the pope, said Ludwig Ring-Eifel, head of the German bishops’ news agency KNA.
“The perception goes somewhat like this: Francis has opened all the doors which [Popes John Paul and Benedict] had previously declared closed on gays, on celibacy, on intercommunion. But the conservatives in the Vatican still stand in his way, and he alone is too weak to complete the revolution,” Mr. Ring-Eifel said.
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BERLIN — The Cardinal of Cologne in Germany has suspended two high-ranking officials named in a report on the church’s handling of accusations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, bringing an end to months of speculation about a matter that has led thousands in the area to sever their relationship with the church over the past year.
The report, released on Tuesday, found no wrongdoing by the cardinal, Rainer Maria Woelki. But an auxiliary bishop serving in the archdiocese and the head of its ecclesiastical court were both named in the 800-page review. It documents a “systematic cover-up” in the archdiocese’s handling of accusations of sexual abuse from 1975 to 2018, and the cardinal immediately announced suspensions for both men.
“As of today, it is no longer possible to say we had no idea,” Cardinal Woelki said after the release of the report — which he had not previously seen, but which said he had been fearing. “I am deeply moved and shamed by this, and I am convinced that for clerics, their actions must have consequences.”
None of those named were accused of criminal wrongdoing, although a copy of the report was sent to prosecutors in Cologne for review. Cardinal Woelki said a copy would also be sent to the Vatican.
a hotline for abuse, and had a bishop serving as its own commissioner on the issue.