Pope Francis, walking unaided, presides over Palm Sunday Mass

Pope Francis walking with a stick on Palm Sunday

 VATICAN CITY – Walking with a stick, Pope Francis opened the celebration of a solemn Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, a day after being discharged from hospital where he was treated for infectious bronchitis. In his homily, delivered clearly but in a weak and sometimes slightly breathless voice, the 86-year-old pontiff said that for Christians “no man, woman or child can be regarded as an outcast.”

 Watched by some 30,000 pilgrims and faithful gathered under sunny skies, Francis, wearing white robes and a red stole arrived in the vast square by popemobile jeep, then walked slowly, leaning on a walking stick, to the central obelisk for the traditional blessing of olive tree branches. Before he was taken all last Wednesday, Francis had appeared in public in a wheelchair and evidently his sojourn at the Gemelli hospital had left him more mobile albeit still convalescent.

 After the blessing of the olive branches Francis was driven in the popemobile to the altar erected in the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

In his lengthy homily recalled that the love demonstrated by Christ “can turn our stony hearts into hearts of flesh, and make them capable of mercy, tenderness and compassion.”

 “Christ, in his abandonment, stirs us to seek him and to love him and those who are themselves

abandoned. For in them we see not only people in need, but Jesus himself, abandoned: Jesus, who

saved us by descending to the depths of our human condition.”

 “That is why he wants us to care for our brothers and sisters who resemble him most, those experiencing extreme suffering and solitude.”

 “Today their numbers are legion. Entire peoples are exploited and abandoned; the poor live on our streets and we look the other way; migrants are no longer faces but numbers; prisoners are disowned; people written off as problems. Countless other abandoned persons are in our midst, invisible, hidden, discarded with white gloves: unborn children, the elderly who live alone, the sick whom no one visits, the disabled who are ignored, and the young burdened by great interior emptiness, with no one prepared to listen to their cry of pain,” the pope said.

 “Jesus, in his abandonment, asks us to open our eyes and hearts to all who find themselves abandoned. For us, as disciples of the ‘forsaken’ Lord, no man, woman or child can be regarded as an outcast, no one left to himself or herself. Let us remember that the rejected and the excluded are living icons of Christ: they remind us of his reckless love, his forsakenness that delivers us from every form of loneliness and isolation. Today, let us implore this grace: to love Jesus in his abandonment and to love Jesus in the abandoned all around us. Let us ask for the grace to see and acknowledge the Lord who continues to cry out in them. May we not allow his voice to go unheard amid the deafening silence of indifference. God has not left us alone; let us care, then, for those who feel alone and abandoned. Then, and only then, will we be of one mind and heart with the one

who, for our sake, ‘emptied himself,” the pope said.

 After the Mass the leader of the Roman Catholic Church was delivering his traditional weekly Angelus address and on Monday was scheduled to resume his regular diplomatic activity with an audience for the prime minister of Bosnia in the Apostolic Palace.