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 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 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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