Thousands of Christians will be flocking to churches this weekend for the annual Palm Sunday observances.
Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday is observed on the sixth Sunday of Lent, the Sunday before Easter and commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four Gospels.
The Bible tells us people cut branches from palm trees, laid them across Jesus’ path and waved them in the air. They greeted Jesus not as the spiritual Messiah who would take away the sins of the world, but as a potential political leader who would overthrow the Romans. They shouted “Hosanna (meaning “save now”), blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
As has become customary, Palm Sunday observances include the waving of palm branches in procession, the blessing of the palms and the making of small crosses with the palms.
The celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem marks the start of Holy Week, which focuses on the final days of Jesus Christ’s life.
In Trinidad, the Attalea Maripa or “cocorite” Palm is harvested for distribution to the faithful on Palm Sunday.
Cecil Toyer, a member of the St John’s Evangelists Church who customarily leads the group in cutting the leaves, explained: “You cannot get palm from the other palm trees because of the main fact that you have to cut the soft branch of the palm tree. The soft part of the palm tree is located in the heart of the palm tree, which is in the centre. Cocorite is the only palm tree you could cut over and over and the tree will not die.”
Toyer explained that the trees are indigenous to several tropical South American countries as well as T&T. They typically grow in lowland forests and undisturbed areas, on soils that are not usually flooded.
As the reporter assigned to the story I accompanied the team.
The palms we went to reap grew on the side of a cliff on the Northern Range in the vicinity of the North Post Road, Diego Martin. This meant we had to venture over 160 feet down the undulating and dangerous terrain to reap the leaves.
After they were cut, the palms were manually dragged back up the steep incline to the North Post Road where they were stripped.
But before the stripping is done, they first press the young palms to the ground and bent it back and forth to “crack” it. This unseals the shoot so the individual palm leaves could be extracted for use.
When the palms are distributed in churches from this afternoon, many faithful will fold them into the shape of a cross, which are used in the procession at the church on this Palm Sunday in a re-enactment of Christ’s arrival into Jerusalem and then taken home where they are displayed in cars and homes.
Some of the blessed palms which have been cut are kept. These are burnt the following year to be used as ashes for the Ash Wednesday observance.