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Gerard O’ConnellMarch 24, 2024
Pope Francis holds palm fronds as he celebrates Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 24, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Pope Francis opened the Holy Week ceremonies at the Vatican on Palm Sunday, March 24, and at the end of the ceremony he denounced “the vile terrorist attack” in Moscow last Friday evening that left 133 people dead and 140 injured.

He assured the victims of that attack of his prayers and implored the Lord Jesus that he “may receive the dead into his peace, and comfort their families.” He prayed that “the Lord may convert the hearts of those who plan, organize and carry out such inhuman actions that offend God, who has commanded ‘Do not kill’” (Ex 20:13).

Pope Francis then called on believers and people everywhere to “open our hearts” to Jesus “the humble and peaceful King,” whose entry to Jerusalem before his passion and death we commemorate today, “because he alone can free us from enmity, hate and violence” and show “mercy and forgive sins.”

He next prayed for the roughly one million people suffering in “martyred Ukraine” as a result of the “intense [Russian] attacks” on infrastructure in recent days that has left them without electricity. “In addition to causing deaths and suffering, they bring the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe of far greater dimensions,” he said.

He also remembered the victims of the ongoing war in Gaza, “who are suffering so much,” referring to the fact that more than 1.5 million Palestinians continue to suffer from the Israeli bombardment and the lack of food and clean water.

He began his remarks by expressing his “closeness” ” to the community of San Josè de Apartado in Colombia, where a young woman and boy were assassinated in recent days. The community was recognized for its work for solidarity, peace and human rights in 2018, he said.

Some 60,000 pilgrims from all continents, many of them young people, including many from the United States who waved the American flag, participated in the traditional Palm Sunday ceremony presided over by the pope.

Pope Francis, wearing a red cope, arrived early on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica and opened the ceremony by blessing the palms and olive branches held by those present. Thirty cardinals, 25 bishops asl well as clergy, women religious and young people were assembled at the obelisk in the center of St. Peter’s Square.

After the blessing and the reading of the Gospel recounting Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem before his passion, death and resurrection, the cardinals, bishops and young people processed to the altar on the steps of the basilica, as the Sistine Choir sang.

After the reading of the Gospel account of the Passion of Jesus according to St. Mark, a minute of silence was observed. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Pope Francis decided not to read the homily that had already been distributed to journalists, nor did he ask an assistant to read the text as he sometimes does when he has a respiratory problem. The Vatican press officer, when asked, gave no explanation for this but given that Pope Francis appeared in good form throughout the celebration and read the prayers and the text of his comments on Moscow, Ukraine and Gaza without any difficulty, one can only presume that he felt the Gospel account did not need a commentary today. Indeed, it is the practice in many parishes not to give a homily after the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday.

After the reading of the Passion and the moment of silence, prayers were recited in Chinese, French, Polish, German and Yoruba. One of the prayers was “for all government leaders, called to cultivate peace and the good of people, that they may confront and resolve all conflicts by the art of dialogue and in mutual respect.”

Cardinal Claudio Gugerotti, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, was the main celebrant at the Mass at which the cardinals, bishops and 350 priests concelebrated.

At the end of Mass, Pope Francis rode among the crowd in the popemobile for no less than 20 minutes, waving and smiling to the pilgrims. The display quieted any concerns that were provoked by the fact that he had not read the homily on this Palm Sunday, which he had done in previous years.

The 87-year-old pontiff has a demanding schedule for the rest of Holy Week. The program includes presiding at the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday morning, and his visit to the women’s section of Rebibbia prison in Rome later that day to wash the feet of 12 detainees and celebrate the Mass commemorating the Last Supper.

The Vatican said he will also preside at the Good Friday commemoration of the Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica and at the candle-lit Way of the Cross at Rome’s Coliseum that same evening. The pope will preside at the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Saturday evening and will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday morning, before delivering his Easter Message, “Urbi et Orbi,” at midday on Easter Sunday.

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