Millions of Christians worldwide will carry palm leaves in processions today to recall the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem in the days before his crucifixion.
Palm Sunday begins the most holy week on the Christian liturgical calendar, which includes the Good Friday commemoration of Christ's crucifixion at Calvary and ends with Easter Sunday, the celebration of Christ's resurrection.
"Holy Week to me represents the suffering Christ went through for us," said Nancy Owen, youth coordinator of Mountain Chapel United Methodist Church, according to the Birmingham News.
In Syria, where Christians comprise around 20 percent of around 18.3 millions inhabitants, young Christian Syrians, carrying palm fronds and candles, celebrated Palm Sunday outside Sayydet Demashek Church in downtown Damascus the city where the Apostle Paul had his conversion to faith in Christ. Palm branches are traditionally used in the celebrations as a reminder of the palm fronds that were waved by the crowd that greeted Christ as He entered the holy city. The palms are saved by many of the churches to be burned later as the source for the ashes used in Ash Wednesday services.
In Jerusalem's Old City, Christian clergymen holding Palm branches walked around the tomb of Jesus Christ during a mass to mark Palm Sunday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. According to reports, the Israeli army said that it would give permission to 34,000 Palestinian Christians to travel from the West Bank in order to attend festivities over the upcoming Easter weekend.
Pope Benedict XVI, meanwhile, opened a busy Holy Week at the Vatican with a Palm Sunday Mass which was dedicated to young people.
"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, according to the Associated Press. Pope John Paul II, whose death one year ago was observed last week, made a tradition of dedicating Palm Sunday to the world's young people, and in his first year as pope, Benedict continued that legacy.
For many, Benedict said, the cross on which Christ was crucified signified only his death and sacrifice.
"But Palm Sunday tells us that ... it is the cross that is the true tree of life," he continued, calling the cross a symbol of poverty, peace and the universality of the church.
"The new weapon that Jesus gives us from his hands is the cross sign of reconciliation, sign of the love that is stronger than death," he said.