Pope remembers victims of Alps air disaster

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Pope Francis has remembered those killed in the Germanwings crash as he opened solemn Holy Week services with Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter’s Square.

At the end of Mass outside St Peter’s Basilica for some 70,000 faithful, Francis prayed for those who died in Tuesday’s crash in the French Alps, noting there was a group of German schoolchildren aboard the aircraft.

The disaster killed 150 people, including the co-pilot who investigators say deliberately crashed the plane into the mountain.

Francis clutched a palm frond during the traditional procession at the service’s start. In keeping with the simple tone of his two-year-old papacy, he leaned on a plain wooden pastoral staff instead of a traditionally more ornate one as he stood under a red canopy on the basilica steps.

In his homily, Francis stressed humility, another quality that has marked his papal style.

He hailed those who quietly ignore their own needs to serve others and paid tribute to Christians who endure with dignity humiliation, discrimination and even persecution for their faith.

On Friday evening, the pope will preside over a Way of the Cross service at the Colosseum. On Easter Sunday he will celebrate mid-morning Mass in St Peter’s Square and give a blessing from the basilica’s central balcony.

For Christians, Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem one week before his death. It takes its name from Biblical verses that say that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, crowds greeted him with palm branches, waving them and laying them at his feet and calling him “saviour”.

The religious holiday, also called Passion Sunday, marks the beginning of the last week of Lent, which ends with Easter Sunday. This year, Easter will be on April 5.