All morning we heard the bells. Other than their ever joyful clang, the streets of the Old City were quiet on this warm Sunday morning, but as we sauntered down the deserted avenues in our Sunday best, trickles of well-dressed families joined our descent towards the Basilica. Suddenly we came out onto Casa Nova street with a burst of sunlight and a blaze of bagpipes. We joined the hundreds of Nazareth Christians and international tour groups straining to see over heads to the parade of bagpipes, flags and young people playing drums. A procession of children holding large palm fronds reminded us what we were celebrating. Across the narrow street our local Catholic friends waved to us. Needing interpretation for the events around us, we squeezed through the crowd to join them.
Palm Sunday in Nazareth, along with Good Friday, welcomes the largest annual crowds at the Basilica of the Annunciation. We joined the multitudes including little children in white dresses and suits carrying candles and flowers. This festive occasion is a celebration of children and grandparents, we were told. After following the procession, including palms, bagpipes, and priests, we crushed into the largest church in the Middle East for Mass. Built to hold over 800, the Basilica overflowed as local Christians came to celebrate the days before Jesus’ crucifixion.
Two thousand years ago, Christians believe Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, stepping on the palm fronds laid by those who hoped this miracle worker would be their king. In this peaceful way, he began a week long journey towards Easter called Passion week. Today we walked, in our black shoes and high heels, over palm fronds from local trees. We held olive branches blessed for peace. After the celebration, each of us returned home carrying this symbol of peace for another year.