Vatican City (AsiaNews) -At least 50 thousand people, mostly young people, participated in the Palm Sunday celebration in St. Peter's Square with Pope Francis and dozens of cardinals, bishops and priests. The crowd grew throughout the celebration, however, to fill almost the entire Via della Reconciliazione leading to an estimate of 200 thousand faithful.
The celebration today includes the memorial of Jesus entering Jerusalem, accompanied by the people waving palm trees in celebration and the Mass and the Passion of Jesus, which marks the beginning of the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week. Unlike the inaugural Mass of his ministry, the Pope entered the square sitting on the white jeep, in silence and in prayer. The people did not applaud or cheer, but followed him, composed and attentive to the unfolding of the rite.
The Palm Sunday Mass of coincides with the celebration of the 28th World Youth Day which at a global level will be held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) July 23 to 28. It will perhaps be the first apostolic journey for Pope Francis and his first return to Latin America as pontiff.
After the long recount of the Passion according to St. Luke - not sung, but recited by three deacons, with the help of the choir - the pope gave his homily standing. Francis frequently strayed from the prepared text highlighting, adding, moving his hands to give greater emphasis and strength to what he had to say.
Recalling the people's acclamation of Jesus entered Jerusalem, he said: "Jesus has awakened great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God's mercy, he has bent down to heal body and soul. Now he enters the Holy City!. " And then speaking off the cuff he added, "This is Jesus, this is how He loves us." Then he pointed to "the first word: joy." " Do not be men and women of sadness - he said - a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy that comes from having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life's journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world of ours. Let us bring the joy of the faith to everyone!. " And here also added spontaneously: "Let us not be robbed of hope! Let us not be robbed of hope!" And before had interrupted his homily with the reflection that "the devil comes, perhaps disguised as an angel," to distract us from following Jesus
A "second word" is "the Cross". Jesus enters Jerusalem to die on the Cross." And once again interrupting his speech, he recalls the words of Benedict XVI who once said to the cardinals: "You are princes, but of a crucified king, the throne of Jesus is the Cross."
"Jesus - he explained - Jesus does not enter the Holy City to receive the honours reserved to earthly kings, to the powerful, to rulers; he enters to be scourged, insulted and abused, ... e enters to receive a crown of thorns, a staff, a purple robe: his kingship becomes an object of derision, He enters to climb Calvary, carrying his burden of wood".
"Before Pilate, Jesus says: "I am a King"; but his power is God's power which confronts the world's evil and the sin that disfigures man's face. Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including our own sin, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God. Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money, power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation! And our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation. Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God's love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection". Speaking of greed and money he again broke from his prepared text and looking out over the assembly said, smiling: ""[Anyway] no-one can bring it with him, as my grandmother would say, no shroud has pockets!"
"Dear friends, - he continued - we can all conquer the evil that is in us and in the world: with Christ, with the force of good! Do we feel weak, inadequate, powerless? But God is not looking for powerful means: it is through the Cross that he has conquered evil! We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us: you can do nothing to counter violence, corruption, injustice, your sins! We must never grow accustomed to evil! With Christ we can transform ourselves and the world. We must bear the victory of Christ's Cross to everyone everywhere, we must bear this great love of God. Christ's Cross embraced with love does not lead to sadness, but to joy!"
The last "word" is addressed to young people. "Dear young people - he said - , I think of you celebrating around Jesus, waving your olive branches. I think of you crying out his name and expressing your joy at being with him! You have an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always, even at the age of seventy or eighty. With Christ, the heart never grows old! Yet all of us, all of you know very well that the King whom we follow and who accompanies us is very special: he is a King who loves even to the Cross and who teaches us to serve and to love. And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves that we have true joy and that God has conquered evil through love. You carry the pilgrim Cross through all the Continents, along the highways of the world! You carry it in response to Jesus' call: "Go, make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19), which is the theme of World Youth Day this year. You carry it so as to tell everyone that on the Cross Jesus knocked down the wall of enmity that divides people and nations, and he brought reconciliation and peace. ".
" Dear friends - he added- , I too am setting out on a journey with you, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of Christ's Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well - prepare spiritually above all - in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world".
" Young people - he added on the spur of the moment emphatically waving his hands - must tell the world that it is good to follow Jesus, that it is good to love Jesus and that it is good to go out to the edge of the world and follow Jesus!
Francis concluded urging all to live "the joy of meeting Christ, the love with which we must look to the foot of the Cross, the enthusiasm of the young heart with which we must follow him during this Holy Week and throughout our lives".
Before the end of Mass, Francis invited all to pray the Angelus.
"At the end of this celebration, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary to accompany us during Holy Week. May she, who followed her Son to Calvary with faith, help us to walk behind Him, carrying the peace and love His Cross to reach the joy of Easter. May Our Lady of Sorrows especially support those who are experiencing difficult situations. A thought goes to the people suffering from tuberculosis, because today is the World Day against the disease. to Mary I entrust you in particular, dear young people, and your journey towards Rio de Janeiro. ""Until July in Rio! - he added with emphasis - Prepare yourself spiritually! A good journey of preparation to all."
And instead of reading the translation of texts in all languages, he repeated " A good journey of preparation to all!" in French, German, English, Spanish and Polish.
In the end, stripped of the vestments and in his simple white cassock, Francis Pope mounted the open topped jeep and made a long tour of the square, greeting all those present, stopping to kiss a countless number of children handed to him by their parents and exchanging a few words with some groups.