With a small procession down the vast and empty central nave of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis began the first of a series of Holy Week liturgies celebrated without the presence of the faithful from the general public.

Palm Sunday Mass, the liturgy that begins with a commemoration of Jesus entering Jerusalem among a jubilant crowd, was celebrated April 5 without the usual outdoor procession and blessing of the faithful’s palm fronds.

A small number of pews were set out, with 13 people — each holding a woven palm frond — sitting one per pew; just eight people sang in the choir. The basilica was decorated with a potted olive tree and greenery. Also displayed were the “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) icon and what Romans call the “Miraculous Crucifix,” normally housed in the Church of St. Marcellus; over the centuries, both the icon and crucifix have been associated with miraculous interventions to save the city and its people.

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