Palm Sunday celebrated in an empty St Peter's Square, Pope: God saved us by serving us
Pope Francis marked the beginning of Holy Week by celebrating Mass at the altar of the Chair in an empty basilica. Only a few aides for the liturgical service and some worshippers were present. In his Passion, Jesus “served us to the point of experiencing the most painful situations of those who love: betrayal and abandonment.” The ongoing pandemic “summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less”. The pontiff urged the faithful “not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.” Finally, “look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: they are not famous, rich and successful people; rather, they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Holy Week usually starts with the arrival of tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, who fill St Peter's Square to capacity (60,000 people). But today, their absence and the silence made the square appears even bigger. As a result of the security measures taken to control the coronavirus outbreak, there was also no procession of palm trees from the obelisk to the parvis of the great basilica.
Even though today is the 35th World Youth Day, the liturgy was celebrated inside with naves of the basilica empty. The only people present, at the altar of the Chair, are the pontiff, some aides for the liturgical service and the rare worshipper. Everybody else followed the service via streaming or on TV. The crucifix of San Marcello, to which Pope Francis prayed on 27 March for the end to the epidemic, towered over everyone.
In his homily, Francis highlighted the mystery of the Passion of the Lord. “God saved us by serving us. We often think we are the ones who serve God. No, he is the one who freely chose to serve us, for he loved us first. [. . .] God saved us by taking upon himself all the punishment of our sins. [. . .] the Father upheld Jesus in his service. He did not take away the evil that crushed him, but rather strengthened him in his suffering so that our evil could be overcome by good, by a love that loves to the very end.”
The pontiff stressed that “The Lord served us to the point of experiencing the most painful situations of those who love: betrayal and abandonment,” and went on to note the betrayal “by the religious institution that unjustly condemned him and by the political institution that washed its hands of him.”
The Holy Father mentioned “our infidelities” and what Jesus did. “And what did he do in order to come to our aid and serve us? He told us through the Prophet: ‘I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them deeply’ (Hos 14:5). He healed us by taking upon himself our infidelity and by taking from us our betrayals. Instead of being discouraged by the fear of failing, we can now look upon the crucifix, feel his embrace”.
“In today’s Gospel, Jesus says one thing from the Cross, one thing alone: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Mt 27:46)? These are powerful words. Jesus had suffered the abandonment of his own, who had fled. But the Father remained for him. Now, in the abyss of solitude, for the first time he calls him by the generic name ‘God’. And ‘in a loud voice’ he asks the most excruciating question ‘why’: ‘Why did you too abandon me?’”
“Why did all this take place? Once again, it was done for our sake, to serve us. So that when we have our back to the wall, when we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone. [. . .] That is the extent to which Jesus served us: he descended into the abyss of our most bitter sufferings, culminating in betrayal and abandonment. Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: “Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you”.
Finally, the Pope noted: “The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love. So, in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One, the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.”
“Loving, praying, forgiving, caring for others, in the family and in society: all this can certainly be difficult. It can feel like a Via Crucis. But the path of service is the victorious and lifegiving path by which we were saved. I would like to say this especially to young people, on this Day which has been dedicated to them for thirty-five years now. Dear friends, look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: they are not famous, rich and successful people; rather, they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others. Feel called yourselves to put your lives on the line. Do not be afraid to devote your life to God and to others; it pays! For life is a gift we receive only when we give ourselves away, and our deepest joy comes from saying yes to love, without ifs and buts. As Jesus did for us.”