This year, the holidays of three of the world’s major faiths—Judaism, Islam and Christianity—coincide for the first time in 33 years.
The reason this is so rare is that the dates of Easter, Passover and Ramadan shift year to year because they are based on three different systems.
Christian holidays are based on the Gregorian calendar. Instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, this is the solar calendar of 365 days with one extra day every four years.
The Jewish calendar consists of 12 alternating lunar months of 29 and 30 days comprising 353, 354, or 355 days.
And the Islamic or Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar whose dates move out of phase with the solar calendar over the course of decades, making it possible for Ramadan to fall in summer one year and in winter several years later.
Each year, Easter recalls the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with his apostles at the Last Supper—the seder—the ritual dinner of Pesach, or Passover, commemorating the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and the end of their slavery.
Passover begins on the night of the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This accounts for its shift from late March to mid-April year to year. And it is why Easter is popularly referred to as a “moveable feast”—because it has no fixed date.
Easter celebrations differ from country to country, reflecting local traditions and customs. For example, in Spain, where Easter is called Pascua—a variation of “Pesach”— towns and villages hold elaborate processions.
In France, where Easter is called Pâques, church bells stop ringing before Easter to mark the death of Jesus. The resulting silence is explained to children by telling them that the bells have flown to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. On the morning of Easter Sunday, the bells return to their steeples and resume ringing joyfully after dropping sweet treats for the children in gardens.
Celebrations in Italy, where Easter is called Pasqua, began this year with Pope Francis presiding over the Good Friday “Way of the Cross” ceremony at the Coliseum in Rome. Attended this year by more than 10,000, the candlelight service centers around the 14 “Stations of the Cross,” symbolizing each stage from Jesus’s condemnation to his death and burial. At each station, a different family or group of people carries the cross.
One of the most poignant moments in this year’s ceremony, which has not been held this way since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, came at the 13th Station, reports Vatican News: Two women—one from Ukraine, the other from Russia—held the cross and gazed into each other’s eyes “to communicate all the pain of brothers at war and the undying hope of peace and reconciliation.”
The women, friends and nurses at a Rome hospital, said, “Faced with death, silence is the most eloquent of words. Let us all pause in silent prayer and each one pray in their hearts for peace in the world.”
The Pope offered his own final prayer for the evening, imploring God to permit “adversaries to shake hands so they can taste mutual forgiveness, to disarm the hand raised by a brother against a brother, so that concord can spring from where there is now hate.”
May the convergence of all three holidays this year presage an end to division among religions and the realization of the common goal of peace.
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