Image: Pope Benedict XVI holds a woven palm frond
Pier Paolo Cito  /  AP
Pope Benedict XVI holds a woven palm frond while celebrating an open-air Palm Sunday mass in St. Peter's square at the Vatican Sunday, April 5. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and is the start of the church's most solemn week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
updated 4/5/2009 2:32:38 PM ET 2009-04-05T18:32:38

Pope Benedict XVI demanded urgent action by the European Union and African nations on Sunday 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 Palm Sunday Mass.

"The scope of the problem requires urgent strategies coordinated by the European Union and African countries, as well as the adoption of adequate humanitarian measures, to prevent these migrants from going to unscrupulous traffickers," Benedict said.

Speaking out about plight of poor
Benedict has been speaking out about the plight of the poor in the global downturn, particularly following his visit last month to Cameroon and Angola. He has been working on an encyclical on globalization and the poor, and said recently he is refining it because of the economic downturn.

Benedict's message came at the end of Palm Sunday Mass, which commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem when he was greeted by the faithful who waved palms and olive branches in a sign of joy and peace.

In Jerusalem itself, pilgrims, clergymen and local Christians clutched palm fronds as they attended Palm Sunday Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally held to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

"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," said Friar Bonaventure Lucien, of Boston.

Later Sunday, pilgrims retraced Jesus' route with a traditional procession into Jerusalem's Old City from the Mount of Olives.

Palm Sunday marks start of Holy Week
Palm Sunday marks the start of the Catholic Church's solemn Holy Week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion and death and a Mass marking his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

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 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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