Pope Francis marked Palm Sunday in a packed St. Peter’s Square ignoring his prepared homily and spoke entirely off-the-cuff in a remarkable departure from practice.
Later, the pontiff hopped off his popemobile to pose for “selfies” with young people in the crowd.
In his homily, Pope Francis called on people, himself included, to look into their own hearts to see how they are living their lives.
“Has my life fallen asleep?” Pope Francis asked after listening to a Gospel account of how Jesus’ disciples fell asleep shortly before he was betrayed by Judas before his crucifixion.
“Am I like Pontius Pilate, who, when he sees the situation is difficult, washes my hands?”
Pope Francis sounded tired, frequently pausing to catch his breath, as he spoke for about 15 minutes in his homily during Palm Sunday Mass, which solemnly opens Holy Week for the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis marked Palm Sunday in a packed St. Peter’s Square ignoring his prepared homily
“Where is my heart?” the pope asked, pinpointing that as the “question which accompanies us” throughout Holy Week.
Pope Francis seemed to regain his wind after the 2 ½ hour ceremony. He shed his red vestments atop his plain white cassock, chatted amiably with cardinals dressed more formally than he at that point. Then he posed for “selfies” with young people from Rio de Janeiro who had carried a large cross in the square.
He had barely climbed aboard his open-topped popemobile when he spotted Polish youths, they, too, clamoring for a “selfie” with a pope, and he hopped off, to oblige them.
In a crowd of around 100,000 Romans, tourists and pilgrims, people clutched olive tree branches, tall palm fronds or tiny braided palm leaves shaped like crosses that were blessed by Francis at the start of the ceremony.
Pope Francis used a wooden pastoral staff carved by Italian prison inmates, who donated it to him. The pope wants to put people on the margins of life at the center of the church’s attention.
The pontiff wore red vestments, symbolizing blood shed by the crucified Jesus.
Holy Week culminates next Sunday with Easter Mass, also in St. Peter’s Square. Many faithful will remain in Rome, while others will pour into the city for the April 27 canonization of two popes, John Paul II and John XXIII.
Pope Francis noted that Pope John Paul’s long-time aide, now Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, had come to Rome.
The pontiff also noted he’ll be making a pilgrimage to South Korea this summer, with the key event, church World Youth Day celebrations on August 15 in Daejeon.
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Pope Francis has announced in his Palm Sunday homily he will visit Brazil in July for the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
The Pope will attend the Catholic youth gathering in Rio de Janeiro, saying Mass on Copacabana beach and praying at the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Pope Francis spoke in St Peter’s Square as Holy Week, the most important period in the Christian calendar, began.
Thousands of people waved olive branches and palm fronds in the crowd.
The gesture commemorates palm branches which, according to the Bible, were laid in the path of Jesus Christ when he made his entry on a donkey into Jerusalem before his crucifixion.
Pope Francis has announced in his Palm Sunday homily he will visit Brazil in July for the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro
Pope Francis departed frequently from the prepared text of his homily.
His style is informal, direct and, in contrast to his predecessors, he tells stories off the cuff to illustrate the points he wants to make, our correspondent says.
The Catholic youth festival is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims from around the world.
Towards the end of his homily, Pope Francis said: “I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro.
“I will see you in that great city in Brazil.”
The gathering in Rio would, Pope Francis said, be a “sign of faith for the whole world”.
Pope Benedict XVI attended the last such festival, in Madrid, in August 2011.
Pope Francis has begun the Catholic Church’s most important liturgical season with a Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican.
250,000 pilgrims crowded St Peter’s Square for the outdoor Mass marking the start of Holy Week.that marks the start of Holy Week.
Sprigs of olive trees have been distributed to the faithful in remembrance of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion.
The run-up to Easter is considered the most important week in the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis has begun the Catholic Church’s most important liturgical season with a Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican
After Sunday’s Mass, Pope Francis will lead six more liturgies during the week, culminating with the Easter Sunday Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing.
What the newly-elected Pope says during these services will take on added significance coming at the start of his pontificate.
On Saturday, Pope Francis held a first meeting with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, who is now living in retirement near Rome.
Pope Francis was flown by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo for a private lunch with Pope Emeritus Benedict.