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Rebounding Pope Francis marks Palm Sunday in Vatican square

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Bundled in a long, white coat and battling a hoarse voice, Pope Francis presided over a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before tens of thousands of faithful on Palm Sunday, a day after he left a Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis.

The sun broke through the clouds during the Mass, one of the longest services on the Church’s calendar, as Francis, red vestments placed over his coat, sat in a chair under a canopy erected in the square.

He took his place there after standing and clutching a braided palm branch in a popemobile that drove at the tail end of a long, solemn procession of cardinals, other prelates and rank-and-file Catholics. Each participant carried palm fronds or olive tree branches.

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Francis, 86, received antibiotics administered intravenously during his three-day stay. He last previous appearance in St. Peter’s Square saw him conduct his his regular Wednesday public audience. He was taken to Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic that same day after feeling ill.

His voice sounded strong as he opened the Mass, but later turned strained. Despite the hoarseness, Francis read a 15-minute-long speech, occasionally adding off-the-cuff remarks for emphasis or gesturing with a hand.

His homily focused on moments when people feel “extreme pain, love that fails, or is rejected or betrayed.” He cited “children who are rejected or aborted,” as well as broken marriages, “forms of social exclusion, injustice and oppression, (and) the solitude of sickness.”

Deviating from his prepared speech, Francis spoke about a homeless German man who died, “alone, abandoned,” under the colonnade circling St. Peter’s Square, where homeless persons often sleep.

“I, too, need Jesus to caress me,” Francis said.

Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem in the time leading up to his crucifixion, which Christians observe on Good Friday.

Sunday’s Mass opened a heavy schedule of Holy Week appointments for the pontiff. The Vatican on Saturday said Francis would preside at the Holy Week ceremonies, which culminate with Easter Sunday Mass in the square on April 9.