(Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
Hundreds of Christian visitors were in Jerusalem Sunday to celebrate Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week.
"It's the holiest place in the world for Christians and it's important for me to come here at least once in my lifetime," Etienne Chevremont, a Parisian who attended mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, told The Associated Press.
Pilgrims joined a procession of about 15,000 Christians that began at the Mount of Olives. As a reminder of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem the Sunday before his crucifixion, marchers carried palm and olive branches.
Later Sunday, another set of marchers followed a white donkey along the traditional path that Jesus took when he rode a donkey into Jerusalem as onlookers held palm branches. The event is described in the Gospel of John.
"The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, 'Hosanna!' 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Blessed is the King of Israel!' Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it." (John 12:12-14, NIV)
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which held a special Palm Sunday Mass, is believed to be built on the site where Jesus was crucified. Bethlehem's Nativity Church, believed to be the site where Jesus was born, also held a special service.
The week's events will include Good Friday, in remembrance of the day Jesus was crucified. And next Sunday will be Easter, which marks the end of Holy Week. Christians will celebrate Jesus' resurrection from death.
Israel's Tourism Ministry expects about 125,000 visitors during Holy Week.