The unborn, migrants, the elderly and the disabled are "living icons" of Jesus that call Christians to draw close to those who feel abandoned just as Christ did on the cross, Pope Francis said.
In his homily for Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square April 2, the pope reflected on the phrase Jesus uttered on the cross in St. Matthew's Gospel, and which echoed through the square when sung in the responsorial psalm: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
"Christ, in his abandonment, stirs us to seek him and to love him and those who are themselves abandoned, for in them we see not only people in need, but Jesus himself," he said.
According to the Vatican gendarmes, some 60,000 people were present in St. Peter's Square for the Mass.
Fighting off coughs as he began his homily but otherwise speaking without difficulty, Pope Francis said that in his Passion, Jesus experienced the distance of God so he could be "completely and definitively one" with humanity.
The pope was released from the hospital April 1 after a four-day stay for treatment of bronchitis. He processed into St. Peter's Square on the popemobile wearing his winter coat on an early spring day in Rome.
In his homily, Pope Francis highlighted the many "abandoned Christs" that exist in society: "the poor who live on our streets and that we don't have the courage to look at, migrants who are no longer faces but numbers."
He also recalled those who are "discarded with white gloves: unborn children, the elderly left alone, who could be your mom or dad," as well as the "sick whom no one visits, the disabled who are ignored, and the young burdened by great interior emptiness with no one prepared to listen to their cry of pain and who don't find another path but suicide."
Putting his prepared text aside, Pope Francis remembered Burkhard Scheffler, a German homeless man who died in November "alone and abandoned" under the colonnade that surrounds St. Peter's Square.
"He is Jesus to each one of us," said the pope.
"So many are in need of our watch, so many are abandoned," he said. "I also need Jesus to caress me, to come close to me, and that's why I go to find him in the abandoned, in those who are alone."
At the beginning of the celebration, Pope Francis stood at the obelisk in the center of St. Peter's Square to bless the palms carried there by some 400 people. He then proceeded to the altar by car.
The pope delivered the homily after listening to the account of Jesus' Passion from St. Matthew's Gospel, but Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, vice dean of the College of Cardinals, was the main celebrant at the altar.
After Mass, the pope prayed the Angelus with the faithful in St. Peter's Square and thanked them for their prayers that "have intensified in the past days."
"Thank you, truly," he said.