Bundled in a long white coat and battling a hoarse voice, Pope Francis presided over Mass in St Peter’s Square before tens of thousands of the faithful on Palm Sunday, a day after he left a Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis.
The sun broke through the clouds during the Mass, one of the longest services on the Church’s calendar, as Francis, red vestments placed over his coat, sat in a chair under a canopy erected in the square.
He took his place there after standing and clutching a braided palm branch in a popemobile that drove at the tail end of a long, solemn procession of cardinals, other prelates and rank-and-file Catholics. Each participant carried palm fronds or olive tree branches.
Francis, 86, received antibiotics administered intravenously during his three-day stay. He last previous appearance in St Peter’s Square saw him conduct his his regular Wednesday public audience. He was taken to Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic that same day after feeling ill.
His voice sounded strong as he opened the Mass, but quickly turned strained. Despite the hoarseness, Francis read a 15-minute-long homily, occasionally adding off-the-cuff remarks for emphasis or gesturing with a hand.
The homily focused on moments when people feel “extreme pain, love that fails, or is rejected or betrayed”. Francis cited “children who are rejected or aborted”, as well as broken marriages, “forms of social exclusion, injustice and oppression, (and) the solitude of sickness”.
Deviating from his prepared speech, Francis spoke about a homeless German man who recently died, “alone, abandoned”, under the colonnade circling St Peter’s Square, where homeless persons often sleep.
“I, too, need Jesus to caress me,” Francis said.
Concern over abandonment threaded through his homily. “Entire peoples are exploited and abandoned; the poor live on our streets and we look the other way; migrants are no longer faces but numbers; prisoners are disowned, people written off as problems,” Francis said.
Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem in the time leading up to his crucifixion, which Christians observe on Good Friday.
Palm Sunday opened a heavy schedule of Holy Week appointments for the pontiff, including a Holy Thursday Mass at a juvenile prison in Rome. Holy Week culminates on April 9 with Easter Sunday Mass, which recalls the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection.