Unable to lead the traditional Palm Sunday procession through Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, blessed the city with a relic of the True Cross on April 5.

The annual procession, which recalls Christ's entry into the city and the beginning of Holy Week, was cancelled in line with international efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, with public gatherings and events suspended in Israel. 

"We decided since we cannot have the palm procession, to have anyway a moment of prayer this afternoon," said Pizzaballa on Sunday. The archbishop led a short, multi-lingual "moment of prayer" at Dominus Flevit, a church located on the Mount of Olives.

The church, which is shaped like a teardrop, overlooks the city, and was built to mark the Gospel account of Jesus weeping as he envisioned the destruction of Jerusalem.

The prayer service ended with Pizzaballa raising a relic of the True Cross over the city in benediction. 

Jerusalem, said Pizzaballa, "is a symbol of the church, the symbol also of humanity. It is the house of prayer for all the people, according to the scriptures."

"So when we cry [over] Jerusalem, together with Jesus, we cry [over] all our human fraternity, for this difficult moment we are living, for this sad Palm Sunday, this Easter we have to celebrate."

Pizzaballa said that sadness over being unable to celebrate the liturgical feasts of Holy Week is real, but "maybe, in a way also very true, very essential." 

"Today we have not celebrated the solemn and beautiful entrance of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem like every year, with faithful from all the parishes of the diocese and with pilgrims from all over the world," Pizzaballa said during the prayer service.

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"We have not raised our palms and olive branches to cry out 'Hosanna' to our king, Jesus the Christ." 

Instead, the archbishop asked Catholics in the Holy Land and around the world to consider what the Lord may be trying to say during these times.

He noted that, while the people of Jerusalem in the Gospel greeted him with cheers on Palm Sunday, Jesus knew that "He came to Jerusalem, not to be on the throne like David, but to be put to death." 

"The meaning that Jesus attributes to his 'triumphal entry' is different from the meaning that the people of Jerusalem saw in it," he said.

"Perhaps this is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us today. We turn to God when there is something that harms us. When we are in trouble, suddenly we all want to ask big and difficult questions."

While people may be praying for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic as we often do for solutions  to other problems, the archbishop said that  "Jesus responds in His own way" to these prayers. 

"Precisely because Jesus says 'yes' to our deepest desires, He will have to say 'no' to our immediate desires," he said.

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Drawing comparisons between this year's Palm Sunday and the biblical Palm Sunday during Christ's earthly life, Pizzaballa said the story of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem "is a lesson on the discrepancy between our expectations and God's response." 

The crowd who greeted Jesus was disappointed that their salvation was not immediate, said Pizzaballa, but "Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is truly the moment when salvation is born." 

"The 'Hosannas' were justified, even if not for the reasons the Jerusalemites had supposed," he said. 

This remains true today, he explained. Although it may seem as though God is not answering prayers and leaves people "disappointed," this is in part because "our expectations remain without an apparent response."

Christianity, he said, "is based on hope and love, not certainty," and that while God will not answer all problems with certainty, "He won't leave us alone." 

"And here, today, despite everything, at the gates of His and our city, we declare that we really want to welcome Him as our King and Messiah, and to follow Him on His way to His throne, the cross," he said.  

"But we also ask Him to give us the strength necessary to carry it with His own, fruitful love."