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Vatican Marks Palm Sunday - 2002-03-24


Pope John Paul II took part in a ceremony at the Vatican to mark Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week for the Roman Catholic Church. But for the first time in his 23 years as pope, the pontiff did not preside over the Mass.

Pope John Paul, 81, has been suffering from an arthritic right knee for some time, and his doctors have convinced him to limit his movements. Reluctantly, the pope agreed not to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass, for the first time in his papacy.

If he had celebrated Mass, the pontiff would have had to spend more than two hours on his feet. Doctors believe he would have been in too much pain. Instead, he sat in an armchair for the Palm Sunday ceremony, one of the longest in the church's calendar.

The Mass was presided over by Pope John Paul's vicar for the diocese of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini. The pope himself looked tired as he sat in the armchair on the steps of Saint Peter's Basilica. He read the homily, and stood briefly only for certain prayers.

Thousands took part in the Palm Sunday ceremony, despite a strong, cold wind, which was blowing across Saint Peter's Square. The pilgrims waved palm fronds and olive branches to commemorate the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem in the days immediately before he was crucified.

Among those present were large groups of young people. Palm Sunday is the day the Roman Catholic Church celebrates youth day in local churches.

The pope greeted the faithful in various languages. He told a group of Canadians he would meet them again in Toronto this summer, where he will travel to celebrate World Youth Day.

Pope John Paul has a busy schedule for Holy Week. He will mark Good Friday at Rome's Colosseum, and, this year, for the first time, the meditations for each of the Stations of the Cross have been written by journalists.

The pope will also preside over an Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday and Easter Mass in Saint Peter's Square, during which he will give his "Urbi et Orbi" - "to the city and to the world" - blessing.

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