JERUSALEM -- Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday amid signs the coronavirus crisis is winding down, with religious sites open to limited numbers of faithful but none of the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the Holy Week leading up to Easter.
The virus is still raging in the Philippines, France, Brazil and other predominantly Christian countries, where worshippers are marking a second annual Holy Week under various restrictions amid outbreaks fanned by more contagious strains.
In Jerusalem, Franciscan friars in brown robes led hundreds of worshippers down the Via Dolorosa, retracing what tradition holds were Jesus' final steps, while reciting prayers through loudspeakers at the Stations of the Cross. Another group carried a large wooden cross along the route through the Old City, singing hymns and pausing to offer prayers.
"We have to pray for those who can't be here," said Alejandro Gonzalez, a Mexican living in Israel. "Those of us who can be here have a responsibility to keep them in mind and to go in this Way of the Cross that they are going through as well."
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, is open to visitors with masks and social distancing.
"Things are open, but cautiously and gradually," said Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land. "In regular years we urge people to come out. Last year we told people to stay at home. ... This year we are somehow silent."
Israel has launched one of the world's most successful vaccination campaigns, but air travel is still limited by quarantine and other restrictions, keeping away the foreign pilgrims who usually throng Jerusalem during Holy Week. Israel included Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in its vaccination campaign, but has provided only a small number of vaccines to those in the occupied West Bank.
In neighboring Lebanon, Christians observed Good Friday under a coronavirus lockdown and amid a severe economic crisis. Even traditional Easter sweets are a luxury few can afford.
"People are not even talking about the feast," said Majida Al Asaily, owner of a sweets shop in Beirut. "We haven't witnessed anything like this year, despite the war and other difficulties that we had faced before."
Pope Francis began Good Friday with a visit to the Vatican's vaccination center, where volunteers have spent the past week administering shots to poor and disadvantaged people in Rome.
The Vatican bought its own doses to vaccinate Holy See employees and their families, and has been giving away the surplus to homeless people. A masked Francis posed for photos with some of the volunteers and vaccine recipients.
In France, a nationwide curfew forced parishes to hold Good Friday ceremonies earlier in the day, as the traditional Catholic night processions are being drastically scaled back or canceled. Nineteen departments in France are on localized lockdowns, where parishioners can attend daytime Mass if they sign the government's "travel certificate."
Fire-ravaged Notre Dame did not schedule a Good Friday Mass, but the cathedral's Crown of Thorns was venerated by the cathedral's clergy at its temporary liturgical hub in the nearby church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois.Gallery: Good Friday events
In Spain, no traditional processions were scheduled for a second year, and churches limited the number of worshippers. Many parishes went online with Mass and prayers via video streaming services.
In the Philippines, streets were eerily quiet and religious gatherings were prohibited in Manila and four outlying provinces. The government placed the bustling region back under lockdown this week.
In Kenya, churches were ordered to close as part of a ban on large gatherings to contain a worsening outbreak. Joseph Karinga went to his church anyway and prayed outside the shuttered doors, in a garden near a shrine to Mary.
"I will just say my rosary here and go home," he said.
Information for this article was contributed by Zeina Karam, Nicole Winfield, Thomas Adamson, Aritz Parra and Jim Gomez of The Associated Press.