Rome. Clear skies with an occasional cheeky cloud puffing its way over us. A crowd milling in the park in front of a long low building of mostly young people who are about to carry the palm fronds which are heaped against the park wall. Children are darting in and out. Families. Prams. Excitement when the young people are allowed to grab a frond, fearful there will not be enough.
Speeches from the steps of the building by a cardinal. Others follow. Then the procession starts. We join in to go, we suppose, to the nearest church. Instead, we pass it and continue through a square, led by a cleric intoning ‘hosanna’ into the microphone, followed at intervals by prayers when everyone joins in and waves the fronds. Bystanders pause to watch. Many join in, adding their hosannas. A woman beside me is pushing a pram and holding a child in her free hand. Another elderly citizen follows with a rather bewildered dog on a lead. The procession turns left off the square into a residential street. People lean over balconies. More join in. Another left turn and more hosannas and frond waving. We turn left again and find ourselves back in the square, crossing it again to head towards a modern grey cement church. Crowded inside are the young people who had assembled in the park, families complete with prams, and the mass has already commenced at the far end of the church seething with people all chatting as if in a public park. Occasionally there is an exhortation and everyone joins in. The Lord’s Prayer is unmistakable in any language. The palm fronds have run out but sprigs from olive trees are handed out instead – this is the time when they are pruned. I have one, those unmistakable dusty green pointed leaves. All over Italy the olive twigs, blessed on Palm Sunday, are placed over the bed until Palm Sunday comes around again. I wonder what happened to the palm fronds, far too big to place over a bed for a year. I have kept my olive twig – will it last a year from now?