Pope Benedict XVI opened a busy Holy Week on Sunday with a Palm Sunday Mass that was dedicated to young people.
Palm fronds and olive trees swayed in the springtime breeze in St. Peter's Square as Benedict blessed the branches carried by the faithful, as is tradition on Palm Sunday.
Wearing embroidered red vestments and a golden miter, or bishop's hat, Benedict carried a large curled palm frond, as did the dozens of cardinals and bishops who joined him at the altar on the sun-soaked steps of the basilica.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and is the start of the church's Holy Week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
"With this liturgical assembly we enter into Holy Week, to live the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ," Benedict said in an opening prayer. He told the faithful that the olive branches were symbols of Christ's peace, the palms symbols of his martyrdom.
Pope John Paul II made a tradition of dedicating Palm Sunday to the world's young people, and in his first year as pope Benedict continued that legacy.
Busy week ahead
During the Mass, young people from Cologne, Germany, who hosted last year's World Youth Day formally were turning over the large wooden cross used during the church's international celebrations to a group of youngsters from Sydney, Australia, who are hosting the next gathering in 2008.
Sunday was the first day of a busy week for Benedict, who turns 79 next Sunday. The next few days will also likely be bittersweet for many Catholics who remember last year's Holy Week, when John Paul made his final public appearances, unable to speak to the faithful but determined nevertheless to bless them silently and participate as best he could in the solemn commemorations.
On Thursday after celebrating a morning Mass at the Vatican, Benedict will travel across Rome to St. John Lateran Basilica where he will wash the feet of 12 men to recall the Last Supper Christ shared with his 12 apostles.
On Good Friday, he is to preside over an afternoon prayer at the Vatican and then join thousands of people at Rome's Colosseum for a nighttime, torchlit Way of the Cross re-enactment of Christ's Passion and death.
Saturday night he is to preside over an Easter vigil service at the Vatican, followed by Easter Sunday Mass a few hours later on the steps of St. Peter's.