Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, at Vatican

Hundreds of Christian pilgrims marked Palm Sunday in the Holy Land, holding masses and processions retracing Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem, while at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI also celebrated the start of Holy Week.

Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, where he was greeted by cheering crowds bearing palm fronds, according to the Bible.

Events in Jerusalem began with Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – revered as the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

Several hundred worshipers and clergy lit candles and waved palm fronds in the dark, cavernous church.

“It’s the holiest place in the world for Christians and it’s important for me to come here at least once in my lifetime,” said Etienne Chevremont, 49, a visitor from Paris who attended the Jerusalem Mass.

Visitors walked down the cobblestone alleyways of the walled Old City carrying olive branches, palm fronds, and crosses. A service was also held in Bethlehem’s Nativity Church, built atop Jesus’ traditional birthplace.

Later, the faithful marched from the neighboring Mount of Olives into the Old City behind a white donkey, following Jesus’ traditional route from 2,000 years ago.

“For us, it is important to make this experience here, to see where Jesus has lived and to see the situation in the Holy Land,” said Hans Hekrig, another pilgrim.

At the Vatican, meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI traveled into St. Peter’s Square on the back of a white jeep to begin the week’s celebration with Mass. The cardinals who proceeded him clutched ornately braided palm fronds, while ordinary faithful carried olive and palm branches to re-create the welcome Jesus received. St. Peter’s was nearly full under cloudy, chilly skies. [More]