Palm Sunday marks final week of Lent, beginning of Holy Week

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MILWAUKEE -- Sunday, April 1st was "Palm Sunday," the day that marks the final week of Lent. It's a time of reflection and preparation for Good Friday (the day that Jesus died on the cross), and Easter, coming up in just one week.

In the week leading up to Easter Sunday, Christians all over the world will prepare to celebrate the cornerstone of their faith.

Members of the Albright United Methodist Church participated in a "Donkey Walk" on Palm Sunday, to symbolize Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey.

Catholics at Our Lady Queen of Peace held palms as they listened to the gospel - known on Palm Sunday as the Passion of the Christ. "Within that same liturgy, when we're waving palms, those same people just a few days later are calling for (Jesus') crucifixion," Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki said. Listecki says it's that contradiction that still transfers more than 2,000 years later. "We sometimes lead lives where we really, wonderfully reflect Christ's presence in our life, and give him great praise, but then we do things which add to the reason why he was crucified for our sins," Listecki said.

Jesus' sacrifice is recognized during Holy Week as the Pascal Mystery is celebrated, which is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. "It gives you something to reflect on, to try to be a better person and hope next year you'll be better than you were this year. We want to become more Christ-like, not so much as to what we've given up, but as much as what we are doing as Catholics to be closer to one another," Listecki said.

Palm Sunday Mass for Catholics is the only celebration that ends with no closing hymn. The clergy exits Mass in silence.

Hundreds of Christian pilgrims marked Palm Sunday in the Holy Land of Jerusalem on Sunday, holding masses and processions retracing Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem. The day's events began with a mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Several hundred worshippers and clergy lit candles and waved palm fronds in the dark, cavernous church. Visitors walked down the cobblestone alleyways of the walled Old City carrying olive branches, palm fronds and crosses.

A service was also held in Bethlehem's Nativity Church, built atop Jesus' traditional birthplace. Later, the faithful marched from the neighboring Mount of Olives into the Old City behind a white donkey, following Jesus' traditional route from 2,000 years ago.

Pope Benedict XVI kicked off the Catholic Church's Holy Week celebrations with Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square. On Sunday, Benedict traveled into St. Peter's Square on the back of a white jeep at the start of Palm Sunday Mass, which marks Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem and inaugurates Holy Week.

Benedict and the cardinals who proceeded him clutched ornately braided palm fronds, while ordinary faithful carried olive and palm branches to recreate the welcome Jesus received. St. Peter's was nearly full under cloudy, chilly skies.

The pope, who turns 85 in two weeks, has a busy Holy Week ahead of him, with public services Thursday through Easter Sunday. Benedict directed his Palm Sunday homily to young people, urging them to welcome Christ into their lives as the people of Jerusalem welcomed him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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