- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

JERUSALEM (AP) | Hundreds of Christians holding green fronds marked Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, celebrating Jesus Christ’s triumphant entry into the holy city two millennia ago.

Catholic pilgrims, clergymen and local Christians celebrated Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally held to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Friar Bonaventure Lucien, of Boston, stood in the courtyard of the ancient church. He said he was excited to be where Jesus arrived on a donkey and was greeted by cheering crowds bearing palm fronds, as recounted in the Bible.

“For me, it’s a singular privilege to be in the place where Jesus himself actually entered, and then the place where he was crucified and died,” he said. “So for us, it’s very, very emotional - a once-in-a-life experience for most.”

Pilgrims later retraced Jesus’ route with a traditional procession into Jerusalem’s Old City from the Mount of Olives.

Palm Sunday is the start of Christian Holy Week. It continues with Good Friday, marking Jesus’ crucifixion and death, and Easter Sunday, celebrating his resurrection.

This year, Palm Sunday falls just over a month before Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Jerusalem as part of his first visit to the Holy Land. The pope will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan from May 8 to 15.

Orthodox Christians, who use a different calendar, will celebrate Palm Sunday in a week’s time, on April 12.

At the Vatican, the pope ended his Palm Sunday Mass with an appeal to the European Union and African nations to stop the trafficking in migrants, saying the global economic crisis was driving more people to make the perilous voyage.

Benedict recalled the drowning last week of more than 200 Europe-bound migrants whose overcrowded boat capsized in the stormy waters off Libya.

“We cannot resign ourselves to such tragedies, which unfortunately have been repeating themselves for some time,” Benedict said at the end of his Mass.

In St. Peter’s Square, Benedict clutched a braided palm frond and processed through the piazza at the start of the service, wearing intricate red and gold brocaded vestments. Many of the thousands of tourists and faithful who had gathered under brilliant blue skies also clutched palm fronds or olive branches.

At the end of the service, Benedict urged countries that hadn’t done so to sign the U.N. treaty banning land mines, noting that April 4 is the United Nations’ international day for land-mine awareness. The convention has over 150 signatories; the United States, China and Russia, among others, have not signed.

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