Pope Francis attended a Palm Sunday service in St Peter’s Square, a day after he was discharged from hospital following successful treatment for a severe bout of bronchitis.
He was driven into the huge esplanade, sitting in the back of an open-topped vehicle as it passed through the crowds, before descending and starting the service from his position beneath an ancient Egyptian obelisk.
The pope (86) was taken to Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Wednesday after complaining of breathing difficulties, but recovered quickly following an infusion of antibiotics and returned to his Vatican residence on Saturday.
On a cloudy morning, Francis wore a long, ivory-coloured coat as he was driven into the square aboard a Pope mobile. Ahead of him, scores of prelates and priests and tens of thousands of rank-and-file faithful clutching palm fronds or olive branches filled the square.
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In his homily, the pope called on the faithful to “take care of those who are left alone”. “There are entire populations who are exploited and left to their own devices,” he said. “There are migrants who are no longer faces but numbers, rejected inmates and people categorised as problems.”
During his angelus prayer the pope thanked the faithful for their “participation and prayers, which intensified during these past days”.
He gave a special blessing for the Caravan of Peace, a charity mission that set off for Ukraine from Italy in recent days. “Along with basic necessities, they are bringing the closeness of the people of Italy to the battered people of Ukraine, and today, they are offering olive branches, symbols of the peace of Christ.
“Let us unite ourselves to this gesture with our prayer, which will be more intense during the days of Holy Week,” he said.
Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday on April 9th this year, and the many associated events will test the pope’s stamina.
The pontiff will be supported by senior cardinals during other celebrations throughout the week, which includes a procession by the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday. – Agencies