The holy city is emptied of pilgrims, visitors and its inhabitants. Hotel reservations canceled in March and April. Over 500 infected, almost 50,000 in quarantine. The patriarchate studies measures to carry out the celebrations safely and according to the law. Sobhy Makhoul: the virus unites "Jews, Christians, Muslims, Arabs and Israelis". Prayers and songs in Nazareth (video).
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - The blockade imposed by the Israeli government to counter the spread of the new coronavirus "reminds me of the beginning of the Intifada, when everything was closed in Jerusalem".
However, the "fear is even greater" today because "no one knows where the virus will come from or how it will strike,” says Sobhy Makhoul, of the Maronite Church of Jerusalem and administrator of the Christian Media Center.
Speaking to AsiaNews, he confirms that "nothing is open: the airport is closed, no more foreigners enter, only the Israelis returning home or foreigners who have residency. And at the entrance they are subjected to quarantine. "
The Christian leader continues today “the total blockade of the country should come into force. At first the population did not grasp the danger. For some days, however, the mass media have begun to broadcast videos from Italy to make people understand what has happened and to raise awareness among the population, to make them understand that the utmost seriousness is needed ".
Due to the coronavirus emergency, the holy city has emptied itself not only of pilgrims and visitors, but of its inhabitants especially since the government ordered the closure of schools (including Christian ones), institutes and universities. Added to this is the cancellation of all hotel reservations for the months of March and April, at a time when religious tourism from all parts of the world - in conjunction with Lent and Easter celebrations - is at the highest levels.
Many restaurants are already closed, only home delivery services are still working. Sanitization operations are underway in many parts of the holy city, including the Damascus gate, the Via Dolorosa and the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.
The Ministry for Health has ordered the closure of gyms, swimming pools, playgrounds, zoos and recreational areas. The state of emergency does not apply to supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and welfare agencies.
Ahead of Holy Week the Apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Msgr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, confirms that the different modalities for the "celebrations" are being studied, in a "completely new context, that is surprising for us too".
The closure of the Holy Sepulchre, he continues, "is not an option" but "we must find ways to pray, respecting the law". The idea is to form two or three groups of maximum 10 people, separated from each other "leaving aside the traditional processions, to go to the essence of the Eucharistic celebration".
“In the first days of the blockade - says Sobhy Makhoul - people went to the beach. Soon they realized that it is not a time for partying, but a serious situation and one must be careful. The fear is that it may have serious repercussions for a small country like ours: There are already over 500 infected, almost 50,000 in quarantine, even if more than 200,000 are returning from abroad. "
The virus, he continues, "worries Jews, Christians and Muslims, Jews and Arabs" because "it is a disaster that hangs over everyone's head" and for once "we are all united".
In just one week, 450,000 applications were made for unemployment benefits, at a time when the Israeli economy "was going strong. This allows us to better absorb the difficulties ". This is "a common enemy for all" and "healthcare facilities have been taken off guard, there are few masks and tampon kits. Nobody imagined the would be needed in large quantities. "
The churches of Jerusalem invite the faithful to participate in services through social networks or on television, weddings are prohibited and only close relatives attend funerals. The police monitor the streets, observing the distance between people and the prevention rules. "Supermarkets - says the Christian leader - are largely emptied, despite the government assuring that there are sufficient reserves for six months. But people are afraid. "
The restrictions will last at least until the Jewish Passover, after April 16, but the hope is that adequate vaccines will be discovered, even if at the moment there are no certain prospects and even the rumors of an Israeli study on the vaccine "have no concrete basis at the moment". Meanwhile, Christians are praying: yesterday in Nazareth, he concludes, "a priest held a moment of prayer in a square and people joined by singing from their balconies".