VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Palm Sunday Mass on Sunday, opening the Catholic Church's solemn Holy Week.
At the start of the celebration, Benedict blessed palms and olive branches with holy water and then processed through St. Peter's Square, wearing intricate, red- and gold-brocaded vestments and clutching a woven palm frond.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and is the start of the church's most solemn week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Benedict reminded the faithful that during Holy Week, they would be recalling what he called the "most sublime drama in history, which is the drama of our salvation."
Sunday also marked a lead-up celebration to the Catholic Church's annual World Youth Day, and young people were very much on hand during the open-air service on a blustery spring day. A few hundred carried massive palm fronds at the start of the procession through the square.
Benedict plans to attend World Youth Day itself in Sydney, Australia, in July.
In his homily, Benedict urged the faithful to follow God with the innocence and purity of a child's heart.
"To recognize God, we must abandon the pride that dazzles us, that seeks to push us away from God," he said. To find God, he said, "we must learn to see with a young heart, one which isn't blocked by prejudice and dazzled by interests."
Benedict has a busy week coming up, culminating with Easter Sunday next weekend.
On Holy Thursday, he is to preside over an evening Mass at St. John Lateran basilica and wash the feet of 12 priests in a symbolic reenactment of Jesus' humility toward his apostles during the Last Supper. A day later, he celebrates a Good Friday service at the Vatican and then leads the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, procession at the Colosseum marking Jesus' suffering and crucifixion.
On Saturday night, he presides over the solemn Easter Vigil service in St. Peter's Basilica, followed a few hours later by Easter Sunday Mass.
Benedict also has an extra public appearance scheduled for Holy Week this year: On Monday, he is due to preside over a memorial service for the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Iraq.
Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was kidnapped by unknown gunmen two weeks ago, and his body was found last week — a death Benedict said was an "inhuman act of violence that offends the dignity of the human being."
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