Don't turn backs on refugees, pope says at Palm Sunday service

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Pope Francis Celebrates Palm Sunday

VATICAN CITY, March 20 (Reuters) - Pope Francis, leading the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in Palm Sunday services leading up to Easter, on Sunday criticized those who he said were washing their hands of the fate of desperate refugees.

Francis blessed palm and olive branches in St. Peter's Square before tens of thousands of people to commemorate Jesus' triumphant entrance into Jerusalem the week before the crowd turned against him and he was crucified.

He departed from his prepared homily to appeal to nations not to turn their backs on refugees.

SEE ALSO: EU-Turkey deal fails to stem refugee flight to Greece

After mentioning the part of the gospel recounting how Jesus was denied justice and abandoned to his fate, Francis added in unscripted remarks:

"I am thinking of so many other people, so many marginalized people, so many asylum seekers, so many refugees. There are so many who don't want to take responsibility for their destiny."

Over 1.1 million migrants fleeing war and failed states flowed into the European Union in 2015 and the influx has continued, prompting countries straddling the main migration corridor through the Balkans to the wealthy north of the EU to seal their borders, trapping tens of thousands in Greece.

Last week, Macedonia trucked 1,500 migrants back to Greece after they forced their way across the border. Images of exhausted migrants fording a fast-moving stream in the cold were splashed across Italian newspapers.

Palm Sunday through pictures:

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Pope at Palm Sunday services
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Don't turn backs on refugees, pope says at Palm Sunday service
Pope Francis greets cardinals at the end of the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) walks past cardinals at the end of the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows the crowd in St Peter's square during the Palm Sunday mass on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (C) leads the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (C) leads the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Swiss guards stand on St Peter's square before the Palm Sunday mass on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (L) walks past a cross during the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (C) swings a censer during the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (L) is helped by Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations Guido Marini (R) during the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Worshipers walk with palms and olive branches during the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Swiss Guards chat before the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Cardinals walk in a procession during the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis holds a palm during the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd at the end of the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd next to Christoph Graf (L), Commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, Pope's butler Sandro Mariotti (2ndL) and Vatican security chief Domenico Giani (R) at the end of the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he stands on the popemobile after the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis walks at the end of the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he stands on the popemobile surrounded by bodyguards after the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he stands on the popemobile surrounded by bodyguards after the Palm Sunday mass at St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (C) leads the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's square on March 20, 2016 in Vatican. Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of the Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Under a European Union deal reached last week with Turkey, all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who cross to Greece illegally by sea will be sent back to Turkey once they are registered and their asylum claims have been processed.

In return, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.

Palm Sunday marks the start of the busiest week in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

Francis has two events on Holy Thursday, including a ritual where he washes and kisses the feet of 12 people commemorating Christ's gesture of humility towards his apostles on the night before he died.

The pope presides at two services on Good Friday, including a candlelight Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession around Rome's Colosseum.

He leads an Easter vigil service on Saturday and on Easter Sunday he delivers his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing and message from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

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