Coronavirus: Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem open only for services without pilgrims

Armenian, Latin and Greek Orthodox Churches will continue regular celebrations. This follows yesterday’s decision by Israel to close the church to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. For Christian leaders, it is time “to intensify” prayers whilst protecting people's health.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The Custos of the Holy Land Francesco Patton, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilus II and the Armenian Patriarch Nourahan Manougian issued a joint statement concerning the closing of the Holy Sepulchre.

In it they “wish to inform that the celebrations of the Communities, the Greek Orthodox, the Latin and the Armenian will continue regularly, even though for safety reasons and in order to avoid the risk of the diffusion of the COVID-19 infection, the number of participants in the celebrations will be limited to few persons and the Basilica will be accessible during the liturgies only.”

Yesterday, Israeli authorities imposed further restrictions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, closing the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre at 5 pm local time.

The now shuttered church contains the Calvary and the cave where, according to tradition, the lifeless body of Jesus was placed. The site is a major destination for pilgrims, especially during Lent and Easter.

The church's closure, which comes days after Muslim authorities closed the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque compound, is supposed to last a week. “We hope it will reopen as soon as possible," said a spokesperson for the local clergy.

The statement by the officials of the three main Churches that own the Basilica goes on to say: “We wish to assure that inside the Basilica, the prayers of the three Communities will continue, rather intensify”.

The prayers will ask “the Heavenly Father the end of the pandemic, the recovery of the sick, the protection of the medical personnel, the wisdom for the Pastors and the Governors and the eternal salvation to those who lost their lives.

“We raise this prayer from the very place where, through the sacrifice of His own life on the Calvary and through His Resurrection from the Sepulchre on the third day, the only begotten and beloved Son Jesus Christ, defeated evil, sin and death.”