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Pope Francis celebrates Palm Sunday as millions tune in on TV, radio and live-stream

Pope Francis celebrated a quiet Palm Sunday Mass this year, as coronavirus regulations continue to prevent large gatherings of any kind.

Although the Mass was held without a congregation, millions joined the Holy Father via internet, radio and television.

Palm Sunday Mass, the liturgy that begins with a commemorations of Jesus entering Jerusalem among a joyous crowd, was celebrated on Sunday April 5 without the usual outdoor procession and blessing of the faithful’s palm fronds.

Only a small number of others partook in the Palm Sunday celebration, as 13 people held woven palm fronds and sat at an individual pew each.

Just eight people sang in the choir and the basilica was decorated with a potted alive tree and other greenery.

Icons

Also on display were the ‘Sales Populi Romani’ (Health of the Roman People) icon and what Romans would call the ‘Miraculous Crucifix’, which is generally kept in the Church of St Marcellus.

Over the centuries, both the icon and the crucifix have been associated with miracles to save Rome and its people.

In his homily, Pope Francis told those streaming the Mass of Jesus’ betrayal and the abandonment he faced during his Passion.

The Pope said Jesus was betrayed by a disciple who ‘sold him’ and betrayed him, betrayed by the people who sang ‘hosanna’ to him and then shouted ‘crucify him’ and ‘betrayed by the religious institution that unjustly condemned him and by the political institution that washed its hands of him.’

Pain

On the cross, Jesus asked God ‘the most excruciating question—why? Why did you, too, abandon me?’

“Why did all this take place?” the Pope asked. “It was done for our sake, to serve us.

‘God saved us by serving us’ and by taking upon himself all the punishment for people’s sins ‘without complaining, but with the humility, patience and obedience of a servant, and purely out of love,’ the pope continued.

“The Lord served us to the point of experiencing the most painful situations of those who love—betrayal and abandonment.”

‘Not alone’

The reason, the pope explained, was 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.’

The Pope reflected on Jesus abandonment, stating he did so ‘in order to be one with us in everything. He did it for me, for you, to say to us ‘do not be afraid, you are not alone.’ I experienced all your desolation in order to be ever close to you.’

“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.”

Inspired by the Lord’s example of love and service despite the cost, the faithful are also called to “refuse to betray him for whom we were created and not abandon what really matters in our lives.”

‘Life is measured by love’

“We were put in this world to love him and our neighbours,” the pope said. “Everything else passes away; only this remains.”

“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,” he said. “For life is measured by love.”

As the faithful remained in their homes for the Palm Sunday celebration, the Pope asked that they ‘stand before the crucified one, the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who served us to the point of giving his life, and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve.’

He asked then to reach out to those less fortunate and those who are in need, and ‘be concerned less with ‘what we lack, but what good we can do for others.’

Path of service

“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 life-giving path by which we were saved,” he explained.

Before praying the Angelus, the pope recalled how young people from Panama were meant to have handed over the World Youth Day cross to a delegation from Lisbon, Portugal, which will host the event in 2022. That ceremony will now take place instead on November 22 on the feast of Christ the King.

The pope greeted all who had joined the Palm Sunday Mass via video and audio links and asked families unable to participate in the Holy Week liturgies in person to pray at home by any means.

Be spiritually close to this who are sick, their families and those who are selflessly taking care of them, he asked, and pray for the deceased.

“Everyone is present in our heart, our memory, our prayer,” the pope concluded.

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