Arriving on foot, by bus and in colorful ecclesiastical procession, about 200 Christians from five Southeast Washington congregations gathered in the early morning sunshine yesterday for an ecumenical blessing and distribution of palm branches.
Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists Methodista and Brethren assembled on the spacious lawn of the East Washington Heights Baptist Church for the brief service, a neighborhood Palm Sunday tradition the past five years.
Like Christians around the world, worshipers inthe pleasant East Washington Heights neighborhood marked the beginning of Holy Week, and its retelling of Christ's death and ressurection on Easter Sunday.
At the Vatican, Pope Paul V1 told a Palm Sunday crowd of 50,000 in St. Peter's Square that he prayed for "a human, civilized. Spiritual peace to make men brethren among themselves."
He deplored "symptoms and shivers of war that still today appear in the world, paralyzing progress for peaceful coexistence."
In Jerusalem a Franciscan monk led thousands of Christian pilgrims over the same route Christ followed in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem - down the Mount of Olives, through St. Stephen's Gate and along what is now known as the Via Dolorosa.
Though Christianity over the centuries has factured into hundreds osdenominations and branches, believes throughout the world are nevertheless linked by that even in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago.
Most churches commemorate it by distributing palm fronds, symbolic of the branches which, according to the Bible, were placed before Jesus in tribute as he entered Jerusalem.
The Palm Sunday mood was threatened at one Washington area Roman Catholic parish - St. John the Baptist in Silver Spring - when a parishioner called police, demanding arrest of members of a feminist group distributing leaflets favoring ordination of women to the priesthood.
The mimeographed leaflets urged parishioners sympathetic to the cause of women priests to withhold funds from the Easter collection next Sunday and give the money instead to a fund being created to pay for seminary training of women who aspire to the priesthood.
Christman and Easter collections in the Catholic Church are traditionally used for the education of priests. Police stayed at the church for a while, then withdrew and the women continued to hand out leaflets without incident.
For Christians, Holy Week is a time for penitence and prayer. Many churches schedule additional worship services through the week, leading up to preaching, meditation and prayer on Good Friday, the day Christ was crucified.
The traditional Good Friday service begins at noon and lasts for three hours - the time of Christ's crucifixion, according to the Biblical account - with meditations or sermonettes on Christ's last words as he hung on the cross.
Because of work schedules of members, however, many churches have increasingly shifted to a shorter service during the noon hour or at night.
Liturgical churches, such as Catholic and Episcopal, stress rites of penance during Holy Week.
For Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Good Friday is a day of fasting, as werll as prayer. Some Episcopalians also fast on Good Friday.