Over 250,000 of the faithful gathered waving olive branches and braided palm fronds in St. Peter’s Square to hear and get a glimpse of Pope Francis celebrating his First Palm Sunday Mass addressing the crowd reminding them to be humble and young at heart promising to attend the youth jamboree in Brazil in July. The crowd included a variety of people from tourists to Romans to pilgrims who celebrated the beginning of the Holy Week leading to Easter, Christianity’s most important day. The pope keeping with his unique style broke away from the homily text prepared for him to encourage the faithful to lead simple lives, resist temptation and overall remain optimistic in the face of adversity according to the Associate Press. Francis told the crowd that “Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope! Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope!” as the world deals with a crushing economic difficulties and employment crisis. At the end of the two hour Mass, Francis removed his red vestments and wore only his white cassock with skull cap when he climbed into the open top popemobile to meet the crowd. His security team has to work harder than ever as Francis leaned out to shake hands, kiss and pat the heads of infants his body guards passed to him. The Chief bodyguard, Domenico Giani, at one point was sent to give a message to the mother of a child the pontiff passed as the he appeared very tense then broke into a smile one he completed his task the Associated Press reported. The pope also climbed down from his vehicle to kiss a woman in the crowd and chat with her, while another man in the crowd leaned over the barricade to squeeze the pontiff on the shoulder which was unheard of with the reserved Benedict XVI. As an Argentine nun, Sister Emma, commented, “There is no doubt that there will be a new spring for the church, a renewal.”
Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus’ entered Jerusalem then later was betrayed by one of his apostles and sentenced to die on the cross. Francis presided over the Mass that took place on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica under a white canopy saying Jesus “awakened so many hopes in the heart, above all among humble, simple, poor, forgotten people, those who don’t matter in the eyes of the world.” As many of the cardinals sat on chairs during the ceremony, the pope talked about many of the evils afflicting the world including wars, `’economic conflicts that hit the weakest” as well as corruption. Since his election, Pope Francis has made it his mission to help the downtrodden and poor which keeps with the Jesuit tradition as the pope said in his homily that Christian joy `’isn’t born from possessing a lot of things but from having met” Jesus as that same joy should keep people young and “Even at 70, 80, the heart doesn’t age” if one is inspired by Christian joy the Associate Press reports. During the Mass, many of the faithful knelt on the hard cobblestones of the square when the Gospel recounts the moment of Jesus’ death so did Francis kneel on a wooden kneeler. A few olive trees were inserted in the dirt placed around the central obelisk in the square. Holy Week has just begun but there is already a planned change to the tradition with the new papacy. On Holy Thursday, the pope will wash the feet of young inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome instead of the feet of priests in the basilica as a humble gesture of humility. Other appointments in public will include the Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday night and next Sunday Francis will celebrate Easter Mass in the square.
On Wednesday with the same fan fare as when he came in as pope, Pope Benedict addressed an estimated 150,000 people at St. Peter’s Square as he bids an emotional farewell to his flock stating that he understood the weight of his decision but in his heart felt that it was for the good of the Roman Catholic Church. His final audience was the day before he steps down as pope and live a life of meditation and prayer safely behind the Vatican walls in a renovated monastery. Benedict told the faithful that the crisis hit papacy had moments of joy but also difficulty when, “It seemed like the Lord was sleeping and “There were moments when the waters were choppy and there were headwinds.” The speech given from an ivory throne on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica were interrupted by applause from the crowds and when it was done he finished his speech the crowd and his red hatted cardinals gave him a standing ovation. Benedict will abdicate as pope on Thursday night as the cardinals begin their consultations ahead of the conclave to choose the new pope. During his speech to the faithful he commented on the future of the torubled church by saying: “I took this step in the full knowledge of its gravity and rarity but with a profound serenity of spirit” and that loving the church meant, “having the courage to take difficult and anguished choices, always having in mind the good of the church and not oneself.” An enormous crowd from Italy and abroad came together in the square in the early morning for the mid wek audience that is normally held inside but was moved outside to accommodate the faithful who wanted to see the pope one last time. Even with the ongoing church conficts from within and from scandals outside, many were supportive of the pope and his decision as Sister Carmela, who came to see the pope with fellow nuns from her nothern Italy parish, said,”He did what he had to do in his conscience before God…This is a day in which we are called to trust in the Lord, a day of hope. There is no room for sadness here today. We have to pray, there are many problems in the Church but we have to trust in the Lord.” To be fair, not all agreed with Sister Carmela, Peter McNamara, a 61 Australian of Irish descent, commented that,” He’s a disaster. It’s good for everyone that he resigned.” Like many McNamara came to witness history being made. The Vatican said that Benedict after his retirement will assume the title of “pope emeritus” and be addressed as “your holiness”. He will wear brown loafers made for him by a shoemaker in Mexico and a simple white cassock according to Lombardi. On Thursday, Benedict will greet the cardinals in Rome whom will elect the next pope before he fly by helicopter to the papal summer retreat at 5p.m. 15 minutes from Rome. When he arrives, he will make an appearance from the window of the papal villa to greet his well wishers which will be his last audience. At 8 p.m. the Swiss Guard will march off as a sign that the papacy is vacant. On Friday, cardinals will meet in a general congregation to prepare for the conclaves. This week Benedict changed the Church rule so cardinals could begin the conclaves earlier than 15 days after the papacy becomes vacant allowing the cardinals to determine when it starts. The Vatican hopes to have a new pope elected by mid-March and installed before Palm Sunday March 24 so he can preside over Holy Week services leading to Easter. An informal consultation has begun already two weeks prior when Benedict said he was quitting between cardinals.