VATICAN CITY (April 5, 1998 09:02 a.m. EDT - Pope John Paul led the world's Roman Catholics in colorful Palm Sunday celebrations, opening a busy week leading up to Easter, the holiest day in the Church calendar.
Tens of thousands of people waved palm and olive branches as the 77-year-old pontiff presided at a windswept Mass commemorating Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem a week before he was crucified.
The Pope, looking tired at times but appearing relatively healthy, was driven through St Peter's Square in an open white jeep to an altar on the steps of Christendom's largest church.
Clad in red and gold vestments and leaning on his floor-length silver crosier, a bishop's staff topped by a crucifix, the Pope braced against sharp gusts of wind as he led the three-hour service in the spring sunshine.
Palm Sunday is also World Youth Day and many of those thronging St Peter's Square were young people who had come from countries around the world.
The Pope addressed much of his homily to the young.
"...after 20 centuries of Christian history, young people, guided by their sensibility and a just insight, discover in the liturgy of Palm Sunday a message aimed particularly at them," he said.
The busy week ahead will test the stamina of the Polish-born Pope, now in the 20th year of his papacy.
On Thursday, he will preside at a vespers service in the Rome basilica of St. John Lateran during which he will wash and kiss the feet of 12 men in a gesture commemorating Christ's humility towards his apostles on the night before he died.
He will lead three services on Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate Christ's crucifixion, including a candlelit Via Crucis (way of the cross) procession around the Coliseum in Rome.
The Pope's Holy Week activities culminate on Easter Sunday, when he says mass in St. Peter's Square and delivers his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world)" message and blessing.