|Catholic devotees wave their palm fronds as a lay minister sprinkles holy water at them during the blessing after Palm Sunday mass at the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan province, north of Manila March 24, 2013. Filipino Roman Catholic flock to churches with palm fronds as they observe Palm Sunday, signalling the start of Lenten season. Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters
MANILA - Catholic devotees in the Philippines flocked to churches on Palm Sunday (March 24), bringing palm leaves to be blessed by priests.
Thousands of worshipers in Manila attended the morning mass service at the Santo Domingo Church and waved their palm fronds in front of the Catholic priest as he blessed them with holy water.
The blessing rite recalls the story of Jesus Christ's entrance to Jerusalem before his passion and crucifixion. He was welcomed by the people with cheers while strewing his path with small branches of trees.
In Catholic belief, the waving of palms is a symbol of discipleship.
"We value this tradition passed down to us from our elders as we can show our love to God through this act," said churchgoer Maria Apron.
Some devotees attribute the waving of palm fronds as a sign of the faithful's desire to be with Christ through his suffering.
"We celebrate Palm Sunday because we are happy to serve our Lord," said another Catholic Julio Tolentino.
Palm Sunday is fraught with significance in predominantly Catholic Philippines.
After the mass, devotees usually return home and hang their blessed palm fronds on their front doors or windows as a sign of welcoming Christ in their homes.
Filipino Catholics believe that hanging the palms can also ward off evil.
Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week, and the eight days leading to Easter Sunday where Catholics remember the last stretch of Christ's earthly life as recorded in the Bible. These are the most intense days in the Roman Catholic Church's liturgical calendar.
Over 80 percent of the 94 million population in the Philippines are practising Catholics.