updated 4/5/2009 11:46:22 AM ET 2009-04-05T15:46:22

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 attended 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."

Later Sunday, pilgrims retraced Jesus' route with a traditional procession into Jerusalem's Old City from the Mount of Olives. Several hundred made the walk down into the valley and up to the entrance to the ancient walled city, many carrying palm fronds to symbolize the observance.

Balmy spring weather greeted the marchers in a peaceful atmosphere. Though no peace agreement has been signed, tensions have been dropping in the city after years of Palestinian-Israeli violence.

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.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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