Five Air Sinai flights carrying 800 Coptic pilgrims headed to Jerusalem on Monday to celebrate Easter, officials from the Cairo International Airport told Egypt Today on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. Egypt has built an air bridge to transport elder Coptic Christians, who are allowed to perform pilgrimage in Jerusalem during the Holy Week, the week before Easter, starting March 30 to April 7.
Air Sinai company is operating 26 flights from Cairo International Airport to Israeli Ben Gurion Airport to transport about 4,700 Christians this year. Since 1979, after signing a peace treaty with Israel, late Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria banned Christians from traveling to Israel “unless it is with Muslims when it [Jerusalem] is liberated.”
Shenouda, who was at odds with Sadat over the treaty, was not the first Orthodox pope to ban traveling to Jerusalem. His precedent late Pope Cyril VI banned pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1968, after its illegal annexation in 1967 by Israel. The earlier ban was not only an objection to the annexation, it was also an objection to Ethiopian monks taking over Deir el-Sultan Monastery in 1970, allegedly with the help of the Israeli government. Before that, it was under the control of the Egyptian Church for hundreds of years.
Shenouda’s death did not end the ban. Since 2012’s Easter, representatives of the Egyptian Church have reiterated in press statements that it would deny sacrament to Copts who defy its ban.
800 Egyptian Copts travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter