Christians gathered for an Easter sunrise service on Mount Nebo in Jordan, many praying for peace after the Palm Sunday twin suicide bombings at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt.
Jordanian authorities stepped up security around churches and other sensitive areas in the aftermath of the assaults.
Many Christians still consider Jordan a relatively safe haven compared to other Middle East countries because of the religious tolerance fostered by its moderate Muslim ruler, King Abdullah II.
The international English-language Easter service drew scores of Jordanians and others from around the world to the Franciscan-run basilica. It was the first such service after a decade of restoration had prevented use of the church. “It’s an honour and a blessing to worship here on Easter, particularly when there is so much difficulty and pain in neighbouring countries,” American teacher Jennifer LaChonce told Catholic News Service.
The Rev Serag Mergerdichian, an Armenian Evangelical Church pastor who served in Aleppo, Syria, for 20 years, shook his head in sadness over the six-year conflict destroying his native country. “Unfortunately, we were living in a golden age, and now we are living in the Stone Age,” he told CNS.
Mount Nebo is believed by ancient tradition to be the site where Moses saw the Promised Land and died. A church and monastery, run by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, are perched atop this 3,300-foot mountain facing the northern end of the Dead Sea.
The Rev Malcolm Forrest of the International Anglican Church of Amman participated in the Easter service. “For many years, they (Anglicans) have come to Mount Nebo to celebrate Easter Mass here,” Franciscan Brother Riccardo told CNS.
However, in neighbouring Egypt, Easter celebrations were sombre and subdued, with many mourning 45 Coptic Christians killed in the twin bombings on April 9. ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombings.
“There were plenty of people coming for the Easter services at the churches because they did not want to be intimidated,” Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic bishops, told CNS. “But there is a deep sorrow inside the hearts of the people.”
Fr Greiche said the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches in Egypt refused to receive government officials for Easter greetings, in part out of mourning and anger over security failures to protect Egypt’s ancient Christian community, among the oldest in the Mideast.
The Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s southern city of Minya, where the highest Coptic Christian population is found, had announced there would be no Easter celebrations, but liturgical prayers held “without any festive manifestations.”
Under the shadow of heavy security, hundreds of mourners filed past a flower-strewn memorial at the Church of St George in Tanta, the site of the first bombing on Palm Sunday.
In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, worshippers passed through a metal detector at the entrance to St Mark’s Cathedral, the second of two sites attacked. Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was in the cathedral when an explosion went off outside the church.