Holy Week opens in Jerusalem with the Feast of Palms. | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Holy Week opens in Jerusalem with the Feast of Palms.

The early morning hour of this year's celebration did not discourage the many pilgrims who came to take part in the Blessing and Mass of Palms this morning at the Holy Sepulcher.

At 6:30 AM, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Monsignor Fouad Twal, preceded by the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land and the seminarians of the patriarchate, made his solemn entry into the basilica where the Franciscan superior, Fra Fergus Clarke, awaited him at the Stone of Anointing.

The early morning hour allowed the assembly to participate in the blessing of the palms before the empty tomb, followed by the beautiful procession to the sound of "Hosanna, Son of David". After encircling the Aedicule three times, the assembly directed itself toward the altar of the Apparition to Mary Magdalene in order to allow access to the tomb to the Orthodox Christians who, according to the Julian calendar, today celebrate the first Sunday of Lent.

That is why, to the astonishment of pilgrims from abroad, the singing of the Passion in Latin by three Franciscan friars was partly overshadowed by the sound of the Armenian bells, and later accompanied by the singing of the Copts. Thanks to the liturgical booklets, which had been distributed in large numbers, the many priests and lay faithful were nonetheless able to follow attentively and prayerfully as the mass was celebrated.

(See the Franciscan Media Center video here.)

In the afternoon, thousands of pilgrims — 35,000 according to police estimates — gathered on the slopes of the Mount of Olives to take part in the traditional Procession of Palms commemorating the messianic entrance of Jesus into the holy city.

During the week from March 25 to April 1, the Israeli Ministry of tourism estimates that there will be more than 150,000 pilgrims entering the country for the Paschal feasts. Tomorrow, March 25, marks the beginning of the Jewish Passover, the most important pilgrimage feast of the year.

The procession began at 2:30 PM at the Franciscan sanctuary of Bethphage. The Latin Patriarch, together with the Apostolic Nuncio, the various Catholic bishops and ordinaries of the Holy Land, and the Custos of the Holy Land, was followed by the Consuls General of the protector nations of the holy places who were joined by other diplomats.

"Never be sad men and women! The Christian must not be sad," Pope Francis declared this morning in Rome during his homily in St. Peter Square. The message was received loud and clear in Jerusalem, judging by the sight of the colorful crowd of the faithful who had come from all over the world, dancing, singing, laughing.

Upon arrival at Saint Ann, the procession's endpoint, His Beatitude Monsignor Twal addressed the large crowds, "who have come from all of Palestine and Israel and the whole world." "We who are disciples, we refuse to be simple observers; we choose to encourage and to take on our role and our mission to carry a new message of love and peace." "Jesus, the Prince of Peace, enters Jerusalem, the city that has never known peace. Our procession should not be frightening; there are no soldiers or tanks, only believers holding olive branches and palm fronds in their hand, symbols of peace and joy." "Jesus wants to be accompanied by believers and faithful who love peace and justice." "Simplicity, humility, peace and joy are the sign of our rejection of violence." "All together, let us continue to pray for peace in the Holy Land."

The day's joy continued with scout troops from all the Christian denominations walking along the old City's walls between the Lions Gate and the New Gate.