Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington marked the beginning of Holy Week on April 9 by blessing palms and celebrating a Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion marks the beginning of the prayerful and solemn week for Christians around the world as they commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem before his death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday).
Before the end of Mass, Cardinal Wuerl noted that morning’s news accounts of the bombing of a Coptic Christian church in Egypt, and he encouraged Catholics to have prayerful solidarity with those victims and with all Christians who suffer religious persecution today.
“It’s the belief of the Church, it’s the faith of the Church, that because of the Communion we have received and the Spirit we share in Baptism, the Body of Christ – the Church – is the Body of Christ present in our world today. That body continues to be crucified in parts of our world,” he said. “This time Coptic Christians in Egypt, killed simply because they believe in the Lord Jesus. Our Holy Father has pointed out – and it’s something that the statisticians have pointed out in recent years – that there are more Christians dying for the faith today than ever happened under the Roman authorities at the time of the pagan empire.”
The cardinal called on the faithful to remember that even in the face of the frustration of not being able to do much, there is one powerful thing they can do: pray. “Pray and unite our hearts with our brothers and sisters who simply are being persecuted and dying for something you and I just did so freely today, profess our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So I would ask you today, and during this Holy Week when you are lifting up your hearts in prayer, to remember them. They have no voice. They have no one to speak for them. They have no one to stand up for them. But we can at least remember them as part of the Body of Christ being crucified in our day today. We pray for them.”
In his homily at the Palm Sunday Mass, Cardinal Wuerl said Holy Week offers the opportunity to “make our way with Jesus, walking in his path and even alongside him as we seek also to renew and deepen our encounter with him, his love and his mercy.”
The annual journey of spiritual renewal that happens during Holy Week, the cardinal said, is necessary because the secular life and events that dominate people’s lives today can distract them from an encounter with Jesus. Noting media accounts of political gridlock, poison gas attacks, natural disasters, violence and death, Cardinal Wuerl said especially in these times, it is important for people to remember their spiritual lives and their relationship with God. The cardinal said participating in the liturgies of Holy Week helps people remember what Jesus has done for them, and the importance of remaining close to Christ.
Cardinal Wuerl also noted the news reported on Palm Sunday morning of the bombing of a Coptic Christian church in Egypt. Washington’s archbishop cited Pope Francis’ Palm Sunday homily where he said that Jesus doesn’t ask us to contemplate him in pictures and photographs and videos that circulate on the Internet; he asks us to join Him in the mystery that is His living presence in the Eucharist. That is what the Church does today, the cardinal said, it is not just nostalgia or a recollection, or a piece of history, but an opportunity to enter into the mystery of Jesus by sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ made present on the altar in his body and blood.
As the cardinal concluded his homily, he reminded the faithful that they are called to be missionary disciples. He noted that Catholics are asked to share the story of Jesus, and in this Holy Week, they should pray and be aware of Christ’s presence, that it is not just a memory, but a real encounter in those liturgies. The cardinal encouraged the faithful to carry the piece of the palm received at Mass today and place it somewhere in their homes and say a prayer of thanksgiving that Jesus is with them and died for each one of them, and in the mystery of the Eucharist, they encounter him.