Pope Francis celebrated his first Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter’s Square, encouraging people to be humble and young at heart as he promised to go to a youth jamboree Brazil this summer, while the faithful enthusiastically waved olive branches and braided palm fronds.
The square overflowed with some 250,000 pilgrims, tourists, and Romans eager to join the Pope at the start of solemn Holy Week ceremonies, which lead up to Easter.
Keeping with his spontaneous style, the first pope from Latin America broke away several times from the text of his prepared homily to encourage the faithful to lead simple lives.
At the end of the Mass, Francis took off his red vestments, leaving only the white cassock and skull cap, and climbed into an open-topped popemobile to circle through the enthusiastic crowd. He leaned out to shake hands, kissed and patted the heads of infants passed to him by bodyguards, and often gave children the thumbs-up sign.
Palm Sunday recalls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem but its Gospel also recounts how he was betrayed by one of his apostles and ultimately sentenced to death.
Recalling the triumphant welcome into Jerusalem, Francis said Jesus “awakened so many hopes in the heart, above all among humble, simple, poor, forgotten people, those who don’t matter in the eyes of the world”.
Since his election on Mar 13, Francis has put the downtrodden and poor at the centre of his mission as pope, keeping with the priorities of his Jesuit tradition.
Francis presided over the Mass at an altar sheltered by a white canopy on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica.
Cardinals, many of them among the electors who chose him to be the Catholic Church’s first Latin American pope, sat on chairs during the ceremony held under hazy skies on a breezy day. He quoted from Benedict when he told the cardinals that while they are “princes” of the Church, their leader is the crucified Christ, a further admonition against attachment to temporal power.
In his homily, Francis said Christian joy “isn’t born from possessing a lot of things but from having met” Jesus. That same joy should keep people young, he said.
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