Pope commemorates crucifixion

Pope Benedict XVI carried a tall, plain cross in the traditional Good Friday Colosseum procession to commemorate Jesus' crucifixion.

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He urged people to be sensitive to the suffering of others, during a service which lamented the isolation of the elderly and the pain of mothers who live in war zones.

Thousands of faithful prayed with him as they clutched flickering lights in tiny, paper lanterns on a warm Rome night.

"It will be a journey into pain, solitude and cruelty, into evil and death," the pope said, describing the procession which was about to begin.

A tall cross, studded with flaming candles, stood among the bleak, stone ruins of the ancient amphitheatre.

"But it will also be a path trod in faith, hope and love, because the tomb which is the final stop on our way will not remain sealed for ever," the pope said, of the joy which awaits Christians Sunday when they will mark Easter, when they hold that Jesus rose from the dead.

Wearing a white robe, the 79-year-old pontiff set off at the head of a column of clergy and other faithful in a narrow aisle between the rows of arches and stonework. Prayers chanted in Latin echoed across the arena.

Benedict handed over the cross to Rome Cardinal Camillo Ruini, his vicar for Rome. Other faithful, including a young Congolese woman, a Chinese woman and a family from Rome, took turns carrying the cross for a few steps as the procession snaked among the ruins.

The pontiff again took up the cross for the last final steps of the procession.

In the Way of the Cross, "we see not only Jesus' suffering, but all the suffering of the world," he said in brief closing remarks. He prayed that God "help us see with the heart" and be attentive to those in need and those who suffer in the world.

One meditation read during the procession compared Jesus' sense of abandonment and isolation in his last hours to that suffered by some in current times.

"It is the bitter experience of all those persons who, at this very moment when we are gathered here, as at other times of the day, find themselves alone in a room, facing a bare wall or a silent telephone, forgotten by everyone because they are elderly or infirm, foreigners or outsiders," read the passage.

The meditation, inspired by the women who wept at the foot of Jesus' cross, also recalled the shame of those who have been abused, raped, or have suffered "shameful tribal practices," and singled out the pain of Jewish and Palestinian mothers "and those from all countries at war."

Rome's streets for days have been full of tourists and pilgrims, many of them coming for Holy Week ceremonies at the Vatican which will culminate in Easter services Saturday night in St. Peter's Basilica and another on Sunday morning in St. Peter's Square.

In 2005, Benedict, then German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, composed the meditations for the cross procession, which Pope John Paul II failed to preside over for the first time in his long papacy because of worsening health.

Only eight days before his death, the late pope watched the ritual on TV from his Vatican apartment. Benedict was elected to succeed John Paul to lead the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

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