In his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Francis urged the congregation to consider how their actions and attitudes reflected the various characters in the story of Jesus’ passion and death.
“We have heard the (Gospel reading of the) Passion of the Lord. Only, it does us good to ask a question: Who am I? Who am I before my Lord? Who am I before Jesus who enters festively into Jerusalem?” the Pope said on April 13.
“This week moves towards the mystery of the death of Jesus and of his resurrection,” noted the pontiff. “Where is my heart and which of these persons am I most like? It is this question that accompanies us throughout the week.”
The crowds filled a sunny St. Peter’s Square to attend the papal liturgy, clutching olive branches and woven palms as they listened to Pope Francis reflect on the different persons in the Gospel.
Departing entirely from his prepared remarks, the Holy Father considered each figure in the story, followed by questions about their relation to Jesus.
First, the Gospel recounts Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where he is welcomed by adoring crowds. “Do I have the capacity to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I move away? Who am I, before Jesus who suffers?” queried the pontiff.
Then, there are several groups of leaders, priests, pharisees, and teachers of law who decide to kill Jesus. “Am I like one of them?”
“Am I like Judas, who pretends to love and kisses the master to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor?” he reflected.
“Or am I like the disciples who did not understand what it was to betray Jesus?” The Pope continued. They “did not understand anything...they fell asleep while the Lord suffered. Is my life asleep?”
The pontiff went on to several other figures, including Pontius Pilate, who saw that “the situation was difficult” and decided to “wash his hands of it,” refusing to “assume responsibility.”
The crowd who had once welcomed Jesus so joyfully turned on him, finding it “more amusing” to “humiliate Jesus,” while the soldiers “spit on him, insulted him.”
When Jesus takes up his cross, more compassionate figures emerge. “Am I like Simon of Cyrene who was returning from work, tired, but had the good will to to help the Lord carry the cross?” asked the Holy Father.
“Am I like to courageous women, and like the mother of Jesus, who were there, suffering in silence?”
“Am I like the two Marys who remained in front of the tomb, weeping, praying?”
After his homily, the Pope continued the Mass but concluded with a special welcome to those gathered in Rome to plan the next World Youth Day.
At the close of the liturgy, several Brazilian youth handed off the large wooden cross used at World Youth Day to young people from Poland. The 2013 event had been held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, while the next gathering in 2016 will be in Krakow, Poland.
Pope Francis noted that Blessed John Paul II had entrusted the cross to youth 30 years ago. “He asked them to carry it in all the world as a sign of the love of Christ for humanity.”
The pontiff then announced that he hopes to meet with the youth of Asia during his trip to Korea on August 15 of this year.
“Let us ask the Lord that the Cross, together with the icon of Mary ‘Salus Populi Romani’ (Protectress of the Roman People), will be a sign of hope for all, revealing to the world the invincible love of Christ,” said the Holy Father.
He went on to lead the crowds in the Angelus prayer at the conclusion of the Mass.