Coptic pilgrims flock to Holy Land over Easter
holding up lit candles and a statue of The Virgin of Sorrows, participate in a "Via Crucis" (Way of the Cross) procession which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, on Good Friday during the week before Easter - Reuters

CAIRO: Hundreds of Egyptian Copts departed Cairo airport Friday heading to Jerusalem ahead of Coptic Easter celebrations, Youm7 reported.

“Around 1,080 Egyptian Copts travelled to Tel Aviv onboard seven flights of Egypt Air’s subsidiary Air Sinai while 150 others onboard of two Royal Jordanian flights traveled to Tel Aviv via Amman,” an airport source told Youm7 Saturday.

Safwat Wasfy, a tour leader at an Egyptian travel company organizing the pilgrimage trips, told Youm7 that the voyage is for six nights during which the pilgrims are scheduled to visit Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the Jordan River, the port city of Jaffa and a number of other holy sites.

“Another group of nearly 1,400 Egyptian Copts are scheduled to travel to Jerusalem Sunday morning in order to mark the ‘Week of Pains’ [the week between Palm and Easter Sunday],” said Wasfy.

Many Orthodox churches, including those in Egypt, Russia and some Eastern European countries, base their Easter date on the Julian calendar, which often differs from the Gregorian calendar that is used by churches in European and North American countries, thus the Coptic Orthodox Easter period usually occurs later than the Easter period in western countries. This year Orthodox Easter falls on April 12.

Wasfy said that according to instructions of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, “the tour itinerary excludes a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” adding that most of the Copts traveling belong to either Evangelical or Catholic churches.

Evangelical and Catholic churches have not voiced any objections to the pilgrimage trip, according to Wasfy, considering it “a matter of personal choice.”

Last week, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church asserted its position discouraging Copts from celebrating Easter in Jerusalem; it considers the pilgrimage to the Holy Land as “normalization” with Israel since those pilgrims should obtain Israeli visas.

In an effort to show solidarity with Palestinians over the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem in the six days war in 1967, the late pope of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church Shenouda III issued in 1971 an edict banning pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

However, After Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979; some Egyptian Copts were still visiting the Holy Land each Easter and Christmas.

Shenouda III (1923-2013) was the 117th Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, and his episcopate lasted 40 years. Egypt is the home of the largest Christian community in the Middle East, estimated at 10-15 percent of Egypt’s population of more than 80 million people.

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