Pope Francis celebrates first Palm Sunday

Start of Holy Week

Pope Francis on Palm Sunday

Pope Francis carries a palm frond at the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter’s Square. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

Pope Francis has celebrated his first Palm Sunday mass in St Peter’s Square, encouraging people to be humble and young at heart, as tens of thousands joyfully waved olive branches and palm fronds.

The square overflowed with 250,000 pilgrims, tourists and Romans eager to join the new pope at the start of solemn Holy Week ceremonies, which lead up to EasterChristianity‘s most important day.

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.

Palm Sunday recalls Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem but the Gospel also recounts how he was betrayed by one of his apostles and ultimately sentenced to death on a cross.

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”.

Francis then told an off-the-cuff story from his childhood in Argentina. “My grandmother used to say, ‘children, burial shrouds don’t have pockets'” the pope said, in a variation of “you can’t take it with you”.

Since his election on 13 March, Francis has put the downtrodden and poor at the centre of his mission as pope, keeping with the priorities of his Jesuit tradition. His name – the first time a pope has called himself Francis – is inspired by St Francis of Assisi, who renounced a life of high living for austere poverty and simplicity to preach Jesus’s message to the poor.

Francis wore bright red robes over a white cassock as he 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 pope, sat on chairs during the ceremony held under hazy skies on a breezy day.

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. “From seven to 70, the heart doesn’t age” if one is inspired by Christian joy, said the 76-year-old pontiff.

Francis said he was looking forward to welcoming young people to Rio de Janeiro in July for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day. So far, that is the first foreign trip on the calendar of Francis’s new papacy.

The faithful knelt on hard cobblestones paving the square, and Francis knelt on a wooden kneeler at the point in the Gospel that recounts the moment of Jesus’s death.

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One looks forward to the Roman Pontiff concentrating on the Mission of the Church – to the poor and the disenfranchised of our world. In his first liturgical foray during Holy Week at the Vatican, Pope Francis seems bent on emulating the example of his illustrious predecessor, Saint Francis of Assisi, whose traditional emphasis was upon service to the Poor, the disadvantaged and neglected of society.

Pope Francis’ recent expression of his wish to forward a process of inter-faith talks with the Muslim community, offers a way of co-operation with other Faith Traditions that will be valuable in a world of increasing tensions between Muslims and Christians – especially in the countries of Africa, the Middle-East and Asia, where militant groups are often in direct confrontation on sectarian lines.

His forebear, Saint Francis of Assisi is known to have met with the Muslim Caliph, on a peace mission, which ended up with the Caliph inviting Francis to a shared meal – before having him escorted safely on his way home. Such an initiative must have given Pope Francis hope for a better future in relationships with other Faith communities.

The Pope’s following the Way of the Cross on Palm Sunday – exhibiting the paradox of the adulation of the crowd – before Jesus’ dereliction in the courtyard of King Herod – comes at the beginning of a new papal model of poverty and humility that may help the world to better understand the great Love of God ‘as revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ’.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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