“Let the Easter truce begin”, Pope Francis urged before an extraordinarily crowded Saint Peter’s Square on 10 April. It was an appeal directed at the heart of Europe, weighed down by the tragedy of war. But not only. It was a message for every land experiencing the horrors of war, many of them “forgotten” by an indifferent world.
The celebration of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord began at 10 a.m. with the traditional procession, which saw more than 200 clergymen make their way across Saint Peter’s Square to the altar, where the Pope blessed their olive and palm branches and sprinkled them with holy water.
The First Reading, from the book of Isaiah, was read in Spanish; the Second, from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, in English. Taken from the Gospel of Luke, this year the Passion of the Lord was chanted in Italian. A solemn silence filled the Square during the passage about Jesus’ death.
The intentions included a prayer for leaders of nations, that they may be sincere and disinterested in the search for the common good, courageous in the promotion of harmony and peace, and vigilant guardians of Creation. Prayer intentions were also raised for the safety of children, a welcoming home for exiles, the warmth of a sensitive and generous heart for those fleeing war and famine and a prayer asking the Lord to grant us the strength to pray for those who hate us and the disarming ability to respond to transgressions with kindness.
Twenty-four cardinals concelebrated. Among them was the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. During the Eucharistic prayer, the Cardinals approached the altar, next to which was a statue of the Mother of God. Cardinals Giovanni Battista Re and Leonardo Sandri, the Dean and Vice Dean, respectively, of the College of Cardinals, were also present.
Twenty-four of the 26 Archbishops and Bishops in attendance were also concelebrants. Among them were Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the Substitute for General Affairs, and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Secretary for Relations with States. More than 200 priests also participated.
The olive branches used for the celebration were provided by Italian entities from the Lazio and Apuglia regions, and the palm fronds by the Neocatechumenal Way, a Catholic Association of Christian faithful.
At the end of the lengthy celebration — after the Angelus and final blessing — the Holy Father made his way through the crowd on the Popemobile. He greeted many of the estimated 65,000 people who filled, not only Saint Peter’s Square, but Pius xii Square and Via della Conciliazione, the large street that is the primary access route to Saint Peter’s Square.
People waving olive branches, palm fronds and their countries’ flags excitedly greeted the Pope as he passed by.
The Mass, celebrated on a beautiful spring day, was a joyful occasion sharply contrasting the death and destruction plaguing so many parts of the world. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and his triumph over sin and death were an especially powerful sign of hope this Palm Sunday. “With God, we can always come back to life. Take courage!” said the Holy Father during his homily.
This celebration of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, of his dying for our sins, was a reminder of God’s infinite desire to forgive us, explained the Pope. “Let us look to Jesus on the cross and realize that we have never been looked upon with a more gentle and compassionate gaze,” he said. “Let us look to Jesus on the cross and understand that we have never received a more loving embrace. Let us look to the crucified Lord and say: ‘Thank you, Jesus: you love me and always forgive me, even at those times when I find it hard to love and forgive myself.’”
This was the first time in two years that Pope Francis was able to celebrate Palm Sunday outdoors with such a large crowd. In 2020 and 2021, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Mass was held inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, and very few people were allowed to attend.
That’s part of what made this year’s liturgy so special. It was a return to life. “With God, we can always come back to life”. It was a source of hope and a sign of God’s mercy. “Gazing upon our violent and tormented world”, said the Holy Father, Jesus never tires of repeating the words he used on the Cross, words of mercy for those who crucified him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.