The procession and the solemn mass of Palm Sunday in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem marked the start of Holy Week 2023.
The liturgical celebration, completely focused on the memory of the Passion of Jesus, was presided by the Latin Patriarch, His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa and more than 170 concelebrants took part, as well as numerous faithful, pilgrims and religious whose presence made the most moving parts of the solemnity even more intense.
In the edicule of the Holy Sepulchre, Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa blessed the palms, from Jericho, and the olive branches from the Franciscan Convent of St Saviour. After they had been distributed to the faithful, the traditional procession around the Sepulchre began. As on the day of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem amid the crowd singing hosannas, the assembly here also joyously waved the palms and olive branches during the three times around the edicule. This number recalls the days that passed between the death and the resurrection of Christ. The singing of the hosanna echoed for a long time inside the large rotunda of the Anastasis.
There was another solemn moment during the Pontifical Mass: the proclamation of the Gospel which relates the whole of the passion of Jesus. The text was recited in Latin by three friars of the Custody of the Holy Land who, according to the ancient habit from the 11th century, shared the three roles present in the passage from the Gospel – Jesus, the chronicler and the crowd – singing them to three different melodies.
In the afternoon, the celebrations moved to the Mount of Olives, for what is considered one of the most extraordinary public Christian events and, for this reason, has a huge participation. An immense festive crowd went down the road between Bethphage and Jerusalem in a procession following in the steps of Jesus riding a donkey to enter into the city and celebrate Passover. Pilgrims from all over the world went down the Mount of Olives, holding branches of olive tree and palms woven into exquisite garlands. Everyone praised God in their own language, in prayers, songs and with musical instruments, and along the way shared with the other faithful the joy of being Christians.
The procession started at the church of Bethphage, where the day before there had been the last Lenten peregrination of the friars and ended at the church of St Anne, near the Lions’ Gate. The festive Franciscan friars brought up the rear of the long procession, having sung and played music all along the way, preceding the Latin Patriarch Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custos of the Holy Land fr. Francesco Patton and Mons. Tito Yllana, Apostolic Nuncio in Israel and Cyprus and delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, with many religious and authorities of other Christian confessions.
In the courtyard of the church of St Anne, at the end of the procession, the Patriarch wanted to greet and thank all the faithful: first of all the Arabs, who at last after many years have succeeded in being present and have come in great numbers from all over Palestine and then all the pilgrims and Christian communities. “Jerusalem is not only a city of conflicts and divisions, of political and religious tension, of possession and exclusion, As we have seen today, it is also a place of encounters, faith and prayer, joy and communion. We are gathered here together without nationality or citizenship; we are simply united in the name of Jesus Christ,” said Mons. Pizzaballa.
In his words he referred to the “many episodes of violence in this city, including against churches and Christian symbols, but we must not be afraid of those who want to divide, of those who want to exclude or of those who want to take over the soul of this Holy City. They will not succeed, because the Holy City has always been and will always be a house of prayer for all peoples. We belong to this city and we will never give up our love for what this City represents: it is the place of the death and the resurrection of Christ, the place of reconciliation, of a love that saves and goes beyond the frontiers of grief and death. And this is also our mission, as the Church of Jerusalem.”