The Holy Family Latin Catholic Church in Ramallah was packed. Palm Sunday usually brings out the entire family and this year was no different. Children in their Sunday best were clutching on beautifully intertwined palm arrangements as they packed into the church compound that also includes the Ahliya School.
But while mass in Ramallah was on April 5th the church bulletin delivered to all Catholic churches in Palestine detailing the service listed Palm Sunday liturgy as taking place on March 29th.
Unlike the Christians of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians in Ramallah have decided since 2007 to unify their holiday calendar which differ based on their respective lunar calculations. Christmas is celebrated based on the Gregorian (western) calendar on the 25th of December while Easter church and popular ceremonies are remembered based on the Orthodox (Eastern calendar). A facebook page has been established specifically for the need to unit the religious celebrations in Palestine. In Jordan the celebrations have been united since 1979 following an appeal by the late King Hussein. But because of the sensitivity of the mother churches in Jerusalem and the complicated agreement (called status quo agreement) made since the Ottoman rule in 1453 churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem each follow their mother church's calendar irrespective of the requests of their parishes often differing one or two weeks from each other.
The packed church service presided by Father Ibrahim Shomali included a progressive act. A woman read part of the Biblical text assigned for Palm Sunday. And following the church service local boy scouts followed a procession that marched through the streets of Ramallah. At one point church leaders from Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican Churches met together along with the mayor of Ramallah, police chief and other dignitaries and marched together towards the Orthodox Church located in the old town of Ramallah.
While the Israeli authorities have since a few years giving Palestinian Christians permits to visit Jerusalem during the Easter holidays, this year most Ramallah Christians chose to stay in Ramallah. Salim Khoury a member of the Ramallah Church explains that while the Israeli permit allows Palestinians from the West Bank to go to Jerusalem, the permit doesn't allow them to use their cars; which means they need to cross the checkpoint on foot and use public transportation from the Qaladnia checkpoint to Jerusalem and back.
The annual Easter message of church leaders this year focused on the status of Christians in the Middle East. "Members of some of the ancient Christian communities in this region -- especially in Egypt, Iraq and Syria - have been among those most directly affected, along with other minority populations. There is no true religion, which advocates violation of the human person or the victimization of minority groups in society, and we condemn such actions in the strongest possible terms. Those who engage in such barbaric behavior dehumanize not only their victims, but themselves," read the message signed by Jerusalem based heads of nine Christian denominations and made public on April 1, 2015.
The Holy week celebrations which starts the Monday after Palm Sunday for Christians of Ramallah and Orthodox Christians will include the washing of the feet, Good Friday Via Dolorosa procession followed by the popular Holy Fire event on Saturday with the climax of Easter Sunday.
A number of colorful pageantry events take place in Jerusalem the most popular of them is if the Ethiopian procession in the old city of Jerusalem and Holy Fire from the Church of the Holy Seplechure. The light coming out of the church is received throughout Palestine and many parts of the world for its symbolic value and meaning.
While it is generally reported that Palestinian Christians are on the decrease, a well researched report by the Bethlehem based Diyar Consortium argues that the numbers are steady and might even be even be on the rise. The exception, according to the report by Diyar's Johnny Mansour is Gaza where the number have been on a steady decrease.
Some major differences occur when trying to estimate the actual size of the Palestinian Christian population. While one group says that today Christians represent 35 percent of the overall 12 million Palestinians worldwide, the actual numbers of Christians living now in Palestine and Israel is very small. A report in Al Jazeera said that Christians represented 18 percent of the population on the eve of the 1948 war. According to the official website of the visit of Pope Francis in the Holy Land, almost "50,000 Christians live in Palestine (38,000 in the West Bank, 10,000 in East Jerusalem and 2,000 in Gaza). The Pop's media commission also estimates that "approximately" between 120,000 to 130,000 Palestinian Christians live in Israel (there are also 190,000 Christian migrants, or Israeli Christians of Russian origin. "This means that the Holy Land is home to approximately 180,000 Christians, who are Palestinian Arab, according to their culture and history," reads the papal website.
Whether celebrating Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, Palestinian Christians are a small but significant factor in Palestinian society. There effectiveness is much bigger than their numbers or their tiny percentage might indicate. The cultural and social ties that exist in Palestine doesn't translate to a majority-minority relationship but a strong and deep bond which has been born in centuries of living together on the same land.
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