Wrapped in a long white robe and fighting a hoarse voice, Pope Francis presided over a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before tens of thousands of worshipers on Palm Sunday, a day after leaving a Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis.

The sun broke through the clouds during Mass, one of the longest services on the Church’s calendar, as Francis, with the red vestments thrown over his coat, sat in a chair under a canopy erected in the square.

He took his place there after stopping and grasping a braided palm branch in a popemobile that he was leading at the end of a long, solemn procession of cardinals, other prelates and rank-and-file Catholics. Each participant carried palm leaves or olive branches.

Francis, 86, received intravenous antibiotics during his three-day stay. His previous last appearance in St. Peter’s Square saw him address his regular Wednesday public audience. He was transferred to the Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome that same day after feeling ill.

Her voice was strong as she opened the Mass, but it quickly turned tense. Despite her hoarseness, Francis read a 15-minute homily, occasionally adding off-the-cuff remarks for emphasis or waving his hand.

The homily focused on times when people feel «extreme pain, love that fails, or is rejected or betrayed.» Francis cited “children who are rejected or aborted,” as well as broken marriages, “forms of social exclusion, injustice, and oppression. , (and) the loneliness of illness.”

Departing from his prepared speech, Francis spoke about a homeless German man who recently died, «alone, abandoned,» under the colonnade that surrounds St. Peter’s Square, where the homeless often sleep.

“I also need Jesus to caress me,” Francisco said.

Concern over abandonment ran through his homily. “Entire towns are exploited and abandoned; the poor live in our streets and we look the other way; migrants are no longer faces but numbers; prisoners are disowned, people written off as trouble,” Francis said.

Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the time leading up to his crucifixion, which Christians observe on Good Friday.