As the Church enters into the week before Jesus’ Passion and death, the Lord “does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs, or in the videos that circulate on the internet. No.”
Instead, Jesus is present “in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own: they suffer from slave labor, from family tragedies, from diseases.”
Many people also suffer from “wars and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike. Women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded.”
The Pope’s words came at the same time a bomb attack took place on the Coptic Christian Church of Mar Gerges in the northern city of Tanta, Egypt, as worshippers packed the area to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass. According to the Associated Press, at least 21 were killed and around 40 others wounded in the blast.
“Jesus is in them, in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved,” the Pope said.
The presence of God in each of these brothers and sisters is not “some other Jesus,” the Pope said, but is “the same Jesus who entered Jerusalem amid the waving of palm branches. It is the same Jesus who was nailed to the cross and died between two criminals.”
“We have no other Lord but him: Jesus, the humble King of justice, mercy and peace,” he said, and encouraged faithful to reflect on Jesus’ suffering during Holy Week and to look for him in the faces of those among us who suffer.
As usual, Pope Francis celebrated his April 9 Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, beginning with the blessing of palms at the obelisk in the center of the piazza. After the blessing, he led a short procession up to the main altar, where he continued with the celebration of the rest of the Mass.
The Mass coincided with the 32nd World Youth Day, which this year holds the theme “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name,” and is the first step in preparing for the global 2019 WYD encounter in Panama.
To mark the occasion, a delegation of 200 youth from Panama, a number of other Central American countries and Mexico were present in the square to receive the WYD cross and the Marian icon “Salus Populi Romani” from Polish youth, who hosted the global 2016 event in Krakow.
In his homily during Mass, Pope Francis said the celebration of Palm Sunday is “bittersweet,” since there is both joy and sorrow as the Church recalls the cries acclaiming him as king during his entrance into Jerusalem, but which is accompanied by the solemn proclamation of his Passion and death.
“In this poignant contrast, our hearts experience in some small measure what Jesus himself must have felt in his own heart that day, as he rejoiced with his friends and wept over Jerusalem,” he said.
“Jesus himself sees in this joyful welcome an inexorable force willed by God,” he said, but noted that while he enters the city in this glorious manner, Jesus “is no misguided purveyor of illusions, no new age prophet, no imposter.”
“Rather, he is clearly a Messiah who comes in the guise of a servant, the servant of God and of man, and goes to his passion. He is the great ‘patient,’ who suffers all the pain of humanity,” he said, and encouraged faithful to reflect on the suffering Jesus would face in the week before his death.
As we listen to the crowd joyfully acclaim Jesus as our King, let us also reflect on “the slanders and insults, the snares and betrayals, the abandonment to an unjust judgment, the blows, the lashes and the crown of thorns, and lastly, the way of the cross leading to the crucifixion,” the Pope said.
Pointing to the passage in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples that if anyone wants to follow him, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” Francis noted that “Jesus never promised honor and success. The Gospels make this clear.”
Rather, the Lord had always warned his disciples that his was a path of suffering, and that the final victory would be achieved through his Passion and death on the cross.
“All this holds true for us too,” the Pope said, and urged those present to pray for the grace “to follow Jesus faithfully, not in words but in deeds.”
He also encouraged them to pray for the patience “to carry our own cross, not to refuse it or set it aside, but rather, in looking to him, to take it up and to carry it daily.”
By Elise Harris