Somber, tired-looking pope presides at Palm Sunday services

Mon Apr 14, 2014 5:08am EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A tired and somber-looking Pope Francis led a Palm Sunday service before more than 100,000 people, opening two packed weeks of activities including Easter and the canonization of two popes.

The faithful waved palm and olive branches as the 77-year-old Argentine pope, whose pontificate is 13 months old, rode into the square on a white jeep and stopped at the center of the square to bless palm and olive branches.

The pontiff, wearing red vestments, appeared fatigued at the start of the ceremony and was particularly solemn when he delivered an impromptu homily, putting aside the one he had prepared.

He looked tired and subdued through most of the service but later perked up and seemed energized as he greeted young people holding palm branches, and was driven around the square so more people in the crowd could see him. The Vatican estimated the crowd at more than 100,000.

Palm Sunday marks the day that the Bible says Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds the week before Christian believe he rose from the dead.

Francis spoke of the events on the last two days of Jesus' life - his betrayal by Judas, his arrest, beating, trial and crucifixion - and asked his listeners to think hard about who they resembled more, those who helped Jesus or those who condemned him, betrayed him or were indifferent to his fate.

"Where is my heart? Who among these people am I like? This question will remain with us all week," he said.

On Holy Thursday, Francis will preside at two services, including one where he will wash and kiss the feet of elderly people in a nursing home to commemorate Jesus' gesture of humility to his apostle on the night before he died.   Continued...

Pope Francis leads the Palm Sunday mass at Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 13, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi