Pope Francis on Friday presided over his
first-ever Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession at Rome's
Colosseum, one of the most important events in the Catholic Church's
The Good Friday ritual, which marks the so-called 14 Stations of the Cross and commemorates the last hours leading to Jesus' crucifixion, started shortly after 9 pm (2000 GMT). Francis followed proceedings from a stage, before thousands of faithful.
"The word of the cross is also the answer which Christians offer in the face of evil," he said at the end of the procession. "Christians must respond to evil with good, taking the cross upon themselves as Jesus did."
Families from Italy and India, as well as priests from China, Italy and Syria, nuns from Lebanon and Nigeria, and youth from Brazil were among those who took turns in carrying the cross during the 90-minute ceremony.
As in previous years, meditations were read out at regular intervals. On this occasion, they were penned by a group of young Lebanese, as decided by Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, after a visit to Beirut in September.
The papal trip to Lebanon "was a sign to the Middle East and to the whole world: a sign of hope," Francis said.
The meditations featured calls for peace in the Middle East and the safe return home of all war refugees, as well as appeals against abortion, euthanasia and drugs.
Earlier, the pontiff celebrated a solemn mass in Saint Peter's Basilica. Following tradition, he wore a red cape symbolizing the blood spilled by Jesus Christ, and got on the floor at the start of the service, to pray.
In the sermon, Father Raniero Cantalamessa cited Jewish author Franz Kafka to preach against "the excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes" that separate Christian churches from one another and from their followers.
On Thursday, the new pope conducted the pre-Easter ritual of the washing of the feet, which recalls the gesture performed by Jesus on the 12 apostles before the Last Supper.
Francis broke with protocol by holding it in a juvenile prison, rather than in a more traditional church setting. He said he wanted to be with people who would help him "be humble and a servant, as a bishop must be."
Much attention was drawn to the fact that he washed the feet of two women, one of who was Muslim. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi dismissed suggestions that this could be interpreted as an opening to the issue of the ordination of female priests.
Also on Thursday, Francis had a "long and intense" telephone conversation with Benedict, Lombardi said.
Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus and is considered the most important Christian holiday.
On Saturday, Francis is to lead an Easter vigil at the Vatican. On Easter Sunday, he will celebrate mass in Saint Peter's before delivering his multilingual Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) message and blessing.
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