Pope Francis has called on Christians around the world to use Holy Week as a time to reflect and exemplify the humility of Christ, and to reject a worldliness that he says proposes "another way" of vanity, pride and success.
Speaking in his homily during Mass in St. Peter's Square for Palm Sunday, the pope said the story of Jesus' suffering shows that the only true way of life for Christians is humility.
Reflecting on the Gospel story of the day -- read in most places as the complete story of the passion and death of Christ, from his entry to Jerusalem to his crucifixion -- Francis said: "Humility is above all God’s way: God humbles himself to walk with his people."
"This week, Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation," said the pope, speaking to a crowd of tens of thousands in the Square. "Only in this way will this week be 'holy' for us too!"
Marking all the different points in the Gospel story -- Jesus' betrayal by the disciple Judas, the Lord's arrest and beating while awaiting judgment, Peter's betrayal of him -- Francis said: "This is God’s way, the way of humility."
"It is the way of Jesus; there is no other," said the pontiff. "And there can be no humility without humiliation."
"Following this path to the full, the Son of God took on the 'form of a slave,'" the pope continued.
"In the end, humility also means service," he said. "It means making room for God by stripping oneself, 'emptying oneself,' as Scripture says. This -- the pouring out of oneself -- is the greatest humiliation of all."
Then, mentioning that there is "another way contrary to the way of Christ," Francis identified that way as "worldliness."
"Worldliness offers the way of vanity, pride, success," said the pope. "It is the other way."
"The Evil One proposed this way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert," he continued. "But Jesus immediately rejected it. With him, and only by his grace, with his help, we too can overcome this temptation to vanity, to worldliness, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well."
Tying the need to serve others with those who sacrifice in silence -- mentioning sick relatives, elderly persons, disabled, and the homeless -- Francis said: "We think too of the humiliation endured by all those who, for their lives of fidelity to the Gospel, encounter discrimination and pay a personal price."
"We think too of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time -- and there are many," he continued. "They refuse to deny Jesus and they endure insult and injury with dignity."
"They follow him on his way," said the pope. "In truth, we can speak of a 'cloud of witnesses' -- the martyrs of our own time."
Francis gave his homily Sunday as part of a Mass that saw those in the crowd receive their palms before enacting a procession from the obelisk in the Square to the area in front of St. Peter's Basilica where the altar was located.
During the part of the Gospel reading where Jesus breathes his last breath on the cross, Francis knelt in prayer along with the rest of the congregation.
After the Mass, the pope gave short remarks before leading the crowd in the traditional Sunday Angelus prayer. He focused his words particularly to the young people there, asking them to continue on their path -- whether in their diocese or as pilgrims in various parts of the world.
Mentioning that next year the church will celebrate World Youth Day in Cracow, Poland with the theme "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy," Francis said that theme "fits well" with Jubilee year of mercy the pope himself has called.
"Let yourself be filled by the tenderness of the Father, to spread it around you!" the pontiff encouraged the young people.
Speaking also of his prayers for the victims of the Germanwings airplane crash on March 24, Francis ended his remarks by telling those present: "I wish you a Holy Week in contemplation of the mystery of Jesus Christ."