Vatican City (AsiaNews) As the deacon sang the final greetings of Palm Sunday mass, the curtains of the Pope's studio window were pulled back. Sitting on a chair, the Holy Father, face visibly in pain and body tilting to the right, made a brief appearance.
Waving a palm branch, he repeatedly sketched a blessing before the large crowd of pilgrims that jammed St Peter's Square.
During the mass, the window had stayed open, the sill decorated with a braided palm frond and the banner for solemn occasions.
As the Pope greeted the crowd, some voices rose shouting "Long Live the Pope" whilst others wept. Many prayed in silence.
Palm Sunday Mass, which is associated with World Youth Day, has always been a key part of the Pope's message to young people.
This year, Card Camillo Ruini presided over the celebration because of the Pope's illness.
Following the last prayer of the mass, the Substitute of the Secretary of State, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, read the traditional reflection that precedes the Angelus prayer.
Here is the text:
"Dear brothers and sisters"
"It is with great joy that I greet you at the end of the solemn Palm Sunday mass. My thanks go to Card Camillo Ruini who presided over it on my behalf.
"Twenty years ago, right in this square, World Youth Day fist began. For this reason, I want to especially address myself to young people. To you, who are here, and to those around the world, m dear young people!
"Next August World Youth day will take place in Cologne, in the heart of Germany and Europe. "In the beautiful cathedral of that city the relics of the Holy Magi are worshipped and they will lead you somehow to the event.
"The Magi came from the East to see Christ: We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage (Mt, 2: 2).
"These meaningful words constitute the theme of your spiritual and catechistic journey that shall take you World Youth Day.
"Today you worship Christ's Cross, which you carry around the world, because you have believed in the love of God, which revealed itself in the crucified Christ.
"Dear young people! I am more and more conscious of how providential and prophetic it was that this dayPalm Sunday, the day of the Passion of our Lord become your day. It is blessed with a special grace, that of joy joined to the Cross, which together embody the Christian mystery.
"I tell you today: Continue your tireless journey to bear witness to the glorious Cross of Christ. Do not be afraid! Let the joy of the Lord, crucified and risen, be your strength; let the Most Holy Mary, always be by your side."