Alessandra Tarantino / AP
Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Sunday.
By F. Brinley Bruton, Staff Writer, NBC News
Crowds gathered in the Vatican to witness Pope Francis's first Palm Sunday celebration marking the start of the holy week of Easter in celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.?
Tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square to be part of the Catholic Church's most important liturgical season. Sprigs of olive trees were distributed to the faithful in remembrance of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion.
The new pontiff arrived in an uncovered car to start the ceremonies. Wearing bright red robes over a white cassock, Francis then walked along St. Peter's holding a palm frond and presided over the Mass from an altar sheltered by a canopy on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.?
After Sunday's Mass, the Pope Francis will lead six more liturgies during the week, culminating with the Easter Sunday Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing
On Saturday, Pope Francis and his predecessor Benedict prayed together before having lunch in a historic meeting.
The new pontiff had flown to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills outside of Rome by helicopter. Pope Benedict XVI has been living there since he resigned Feb. 28, becoming the first pope to step down in 600 years.Both men wore white papal outfits.
Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said that Benedict and Francis had embraced at the helipad, then went to a private chapel to pray.
This is a developing story. Please check back for details.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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This story was originally published on Sun Mar 24, 2013 5:04 AM EDT