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Pope Benedict presides over Good Friday services

Saturday, April 15, 2006

ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the suffering of Christ and that of humanity throughout the ages as he led thousands of pilgrims and tourists in a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum in Rome to mark Good Friday.

Opening the late-night procession with a prayer, Benedict said Jesus' suffering "is the whole of human history, a history where the good are humiliated, the meek assaulted, the honest crushed, and the pure of heart roundly mocked."

But, anticipating the joy that Christians share on Easter Sunday in their belief that Jesus rose from the dead, Benedict told the faithful that in Jesus "the good have already won" and the "meek have already triumphed."

Wearing a red cloak, Benedict gripped the slender, dark wooden cross as he began the procession, and the reflection of the flickering lights of candles held by faithful played on the wood.

"Lord Jesus, tonight we walk once more the way of your cross, knowing that it is also our way," Benedict said.

Benedict, who turns 79 on Easter Sunday, stepped briskly along the path through the ancient ruins, before he handed over the cross to Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini, his vicar for Rome.

Mexican, Korean, Angolan and Nigerian lay people and a Roman family were among the others who were taking turns in bearing the cross after Benedict.

The procession re-enacts Jesus' suffering, crucifixion and death.

Earlier in the evening, Benedict clutched a tall wooden crucifix in St. Peter's Basilica as he bowed his head silently in prayer and reflection toward the end of two-hour long ceremony.

During that service, Benedict heard a homily by the papal household's preacher, who attacked works such as "The Da Vinci Code," which deny Vatican teaching about Jesus and his life and lamented that a movie was being made about the best-selling work.

Last year, a dying Pope John Paul II failed to participate in the procession for the first time in his papacy.

Instead, John Paul silently watched the ritual on TV from his papal apartment and listened to the meditations, which were composed by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Less than a month later, he would be elected pontiff after John Paul's death, taking the name Benedict XVI.

Elsewhere in the world, thousands of Good Friday pilgrims filled the narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, retracing the route that Jesus followed on the way to his crucifixion.

The pilgrims packed the Via Dolorosa, the winding path through Jerusalem's walled Old City where tradition says Jesus carried his cross. The processions ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which marks the site of the crucifixion.

Along the way, worshippers from India, the Philippines, Germany, Spain, Indonesia, France, Switzerland, Italy and many other countries paused to pray and sing. Some knelt to worship in the streets.

Israeli Arab Christians were among the largest groups forming processions along the route.

A group of Californians who re-enact Jesus' final walk in costume every year began their procession around midday. A man portraying a blood-soaked Jesus wearing a crown of thorns was followed by Roman soldiers dressed in red and gold as he carried a large wooden cross to the Holy Sepulcher. He did not enter, though, since dressing as Jesus is considered blasphemous by sects within the church.

Hans de Mol, a Roman Catholic from the Netherlands, was on his third Good Friday pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

"This year, the atmosphere in Jerusalem is the most relaxed it's ever been," he said. "Three years ago, there was more military presence. This year, there's much less tension."

Catholics marked Good Friday with other rituals, including one in San Pedro Cutud, Philippines, where at least seven Filipino devotees were nailed to the cross during annual re-enactments of Jesus Christ's final hours, organizers said.

The Lenten ritual is opposed by religious leaders in the Philippines -- Southeast Asia's largest predominantly Roman Catholic nation -- but it has persisted to become one of the country's most-awaited summer attractions in the village about 45 miles north of Manila.

The Roman Catholic devotees were crucified, their palms and feet attached to crosses with four-inch nails soaked in alcohol to prevent infection, to repent sins, pray for a sick relative or fulfill a vow, organizers said.


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