| 23 April 2024, Tuesday |

Pope leads scaled-down Palm Sunday service, says remember the downtrodden

Pope Francis led Palm Sunday services in an almost empty St. Peter’s Basilica because of coronavirus restrictions for the second consecutive year and he urged people to be close to the poor and suffering.

In pre-Covid times, Palm Sunday, which marks the start of Holy Week and leads to Easter, tens of thousands of people would pack St. Peter’s Square holding olive branches and intricately weaved palm fronds in an outdoor ceremony.

Instead, only about 120 members of the faithful participated in Sunday’s Mass, joining the pope and about 30 cardinals in a secondary wing of the huge basilica.

Italy is in the midst of another national lockdown, which is due to end after Easter. The Vatican, a sovereign city-state surrounded by Rome, has applied similar measures.

Nearly everyone who took part in the Mass, except the pope and the choir, wore masks.

The Vatican re-created the traditional Palm Sunday service, albeit on a much smaller scale, with the 84-year-old pope and the cardinals processing to the altar holding palm fronds.

Palm Sunday commemorates the day the gospels say Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was hailed by the people, only to be crucified five days later.

During the Mass, the pope had a pronounced limp. He suffers from sciatica, which causes pain in his legs when it flares up.

In his homily during the Mass, televised and streamed worldwide, Francis encouraged people to keep their faith from growing dull from habit and to let themselves be amazed by God and by good.

“With the grace of amazement we come to realize that in welcoming the dismissed and discarded, in drawing close to those ill-treated by life, we are loving Jesus. For that is where he is: in the least of our brothers and sisters, in the rejected and discarded,” he said.

The remainder of the pope’s Holy Week services – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter next Sunday, also will take place with a limited number of participants.

Italy has registered 107,636 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain.

  • Reuters