Bishop Joseph C. Bambera carries palm branches at the start of Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton on March 28, 2021. (Photos/Mike Melisky)

SCRANTON – As Laura Welde celebrated Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter on March 28, she reflected on how much has changed since Holy Week last year.

“It is a blessing because last year we weren’t able to come to church and this year we are able to come and I really missed it last year,” she said.

The Archbald woman called Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral “uplifting.” Welde is glad that the church community is able to gather in-person again even as COVID-19 continues to infect thousands of people daily in Pennsylvania.

“I think with everything going on in the world today it’s very, very important for us to have our religion,” Welde explained.

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, served as principal celebrant and homilist for the 12:15 p.m. Mass on Palm Sunday at the Cathedral of Saint Peter. Safety protocols, which included masks and physical distancing, were strictly enforced.

Speaking with the media after Mass, the bishop said it is extremely important for the Church to celebrate the Eucharist communally.

“It was so meaningful to be able to see as many people as we did here today, coming together. The Eucharist is meant to be celebrated as a community. While we were able to do that from afar (through livestream Masses and Catholic Television), it clearly resonates with all of our spirits to be able to join with brothers and sisters of faith to affirm our beliefs,” Bishop Bambera said.

While the bishop acknowledged that glimmers of hope are on the horizon in terms of vaccines and lower numbers of coronavirus infections, he said it is important that people not let their guard down with safety protocols. That is why this year’s Passion Narrative was shortened.

“We’ve tried to use shorter readings, we’ve tried to keep at a minimum the amount of time that we are spending together because we are still social distancing but at the heart is the same spirit and the same Eucharist that we always celebrate when we gather, so that is really what gives us hope today,” he explained.

During his homily, Bishop Bambera said that over the last year many people have struggled with questions about life, death, faith and God. The bishop turned to the Passion Narrative itself to address some of those concerns.

With the Twelfth Station of the Cross behind them, two parishioners recite The Lord’s Prayer during Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Peter on March 28, 2021.

“Jesus said one thing as he hung from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Abandoned by his closest followers, in the midst of his agony on the cross, Jesus questioned whether his Father had abandoned him as well,” the bishop said.

Bishop Bambera said Pope Francis addressed this idea of abandonment in his Palm Sunday homily last year.

“When we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone. Jesus experienced total abandonment…in order to be one with us in everything. He did it for me, for you, for all of us; he did it to say to us:

‘Do not be afraid, you are not alone,’” the bishop said quoting Pope Francis 2020 homily.

During Holy Week, the bishop stressed that people should not forget to focus on the example of Jesus, who teaches us by the embrace of His cross, how to discover the means to life and peace.