VATICAN CITY, MAR 20, 2005 (VIS) - Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, presided in the Pope's name at the Eucharistic celebration for Palm Sunday in St Peter's Square. Prior to the Mass, the cardinal blessed palms and olive branches.

During the ceremony, the window of John Paul II's private apartment was open, and a palm was affixed to one side.

Some 50,000 faithful participated in the event, most of them young people who today celebrate diocesan World Youth Day, a prelude to the international World Youth Day which will be held in August in Cologne, Germany.

In the homily, Cardinal Ruini spoke on the Lord's Passion as recounted in today's Gospel reading: "If we consider the large amount of human suffering, especially guiltless suffering, we feel lost and are impelled to ask ourselves if God truly loves us and if He takes care of us, or whether there is not, perhaps, some evil destiny that not even God can change."

"Yet in the cross of Christ," the cardinal continued, "we come into contact with the true face of God. ... Indeed, in the cross of Christ, the face of God does not lose its greatness and its mystery, yet it becomes extraordinarily close and friendly, because it is the face of the One Who, in His own Son, fully shared even the darkest side of the human condition."

The Holy Father's vicar for the diocese of Rome went on to emphasize: "Thus, from the cross of Christ arises a strength and a hope of redemption for all human suffering. In this way, the drama and the mystery of suffering - which in the final analysis are the drama and mystery of our lives - are not eliminated, but they no longer appear as something dark and meaningless."

Addressing himself especially to the young people present, the cardinal encouraged them to follow Christ's invitation: "'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.' These words understandably give rise to fear, even more so for us, men and women of our time who tend to see suffering only as something useless and harmful. Yet, precisely this is our mistake, preventing us from understanding not only the meaning of suffering, but also the meaning of life."

"The cross of Christ neither depresses nor weakens. On the contrary, from it comes ever new energy, energy that shines forth in the deeds of saints and that has made the history of the Church fruitful, energy that stands out particularly clearly today in the tired face of the Holy Father."