In St. Peter's Square at 9.30 a.m. Sunday, the Holy Father presided at a solemn liturgical celebration for Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Lord, which marks the beginning of Holy Week. The Pope blessed the palms and the olives, then walked in procession with cardinals, bishops and 270 young people from the obelisk in the square to the altar where he celebrated the Eucharist.
The Eucharistic liturgy was attended by 50,000 pilgrims, most of them young people from Rome and other dioceses currently celebrating 23rd diocesan World Youth Day (WYD) which has as its theme this year: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses". Diocesan WYD is a prelude to international WYD, due to be held in Sydney, Australia, from 15 to 20 July.
In his homily, the Holy Father commented on today's Gospel reading concerning Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His arrival at the Temple to find it full of traders, animals and money changers "who occupied the place of prayer with their stalls".
"This must also make us, as Christians, think today", said the Holy Father. "Is our faith open and pure enough, so that on the basis of that faith even 'pagans' – people who are currently searching and posing questions – may see the light of the one God, come together in the atria of faith to join our prayer and, perhaps, become worshippers themselves?
"Does," the Holy Father added, "an awareness that greed is idolatry penetrate to our hearts and our way of life? Do we not in various ways actually let idols enter even the world of our faith? Are we ready to let ourselves be purified anew by the Lord, allowing Him to remove from us and from the Church everything that is contrary to Him?"
"In the place of cruel sacrifices and offers of food, comes the body of Christ", said Pope Benedict. "He Himself comes to replace them. Only 'endless love', only the love which, for man, gives itself totally to God, is true worship and true sacrifice".
"Against the trade in animals and the exchange of money, Christ places His own healing goodness. This is the true purification of the Temple. He does not come as destroyer, He does not come with the revolutionary's sword, He comes with the gift of healing".
Christ "dedicates Himself to those who, through their infirmity, are forced to the extremes of life and to the margins of society. Jesus reveals God as the One Who loves, and His power as the power of love. And thus He informs us what will always remain part of the true worship of God: healing, service, curative goodness".
The Pope went on to recall the children who acclaimed Jesus on His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and said: "He, Who embraces the world entire, made Himself small to meet us, to direct our steps towards God".
He went on: "To recognise God we must abandon the pride that blinds us, that pushes us away from God as if He were our competitor. To meet God we must become capable of seeing with the heart. We must learn to see with a young heart that is not encumbered by prejudice or obscured by interests".
Benedict XVI concluded his homily by encouraging those present to join "the procession of young people of that time, a procession that crosses all of history. Together with the youth of the whole world let us go and meet Jesus. Let us be guided by Him towards God, to learn from God Himself the right way to be human".