The half-mile Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows, snakes east to west through the walled Old City of Jerusalem, from the Lion's Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried.
The plaza in front of the fourth century basilica was packed with people, and the Via Dolorosa was filled almost to capacity, a sign that the stream of pilgrims that started with the new year and peaked during the millennium visit of Pope John Paul II last month has not abated.
A highlight was the re-enactment in costume of Jesus' final walk by 50 members of a Catholic ministry, Christ In You, The Hope Of Glory, based in Brea, Calif. Playing Jesus, Anthony Rivilla from Los Angeles carried a large wooden cross on his bare back. His face was smudged with fake blood and a crown of thorn sat on his head. Roman soldiers with red-plumed helmets pushed him on.
The group's founder, Joanne Petronella, of Anaheim, California, said she felt rushed by Israeli police who accompanied the large crowds, but that she was certain God heard the prayers she spoke along the way for the peoples of the world. "I felt a great communion with God," said Petronella, who played Mary.
Accompanied by monks in brown robes, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah led the official Catholic church procession, a solemn sojourn along the stone paths. The clergymen sang hymns and knelt in prayer at the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa.
The present path of the Via Dolorosa is symbolic at best, according to some scholars who say Jesus might have taken an entirely different route. Nonetheless, the traditional route was recently given a $1 million facelift, with workers sandblasting facades and replacing missing pavement stones.
In previous years on Good Friday, there were spaces between the groups and ample elbow room in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the traditional site of Calvary, the site of the crucifixion. This year, the processions were close together, and the church and courtyard outside were filled with hundreds of pilgrims.
Until the arrival of the pope last month, tour operators and hoteliers were complaining that millennium tourism was not significantly greater than ordinary years. The crush of pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa, a sight not seen in recent decades, indicated that the papal visit might have turned the tourism picture around.