Pope Benedict XVI encouraged those threatened by unemployment and other economic woes to draw courage and strength from the suffering of the crucified Christ as he presided over a Good Friday candlelit Way of the Cross procession at the ancient Coliseum. Earlier in the day, he had heard the papal household’s preacher deliver a homily in St Peter’s Basilica.
The Pope, who turns 85 on 16 April, did not carry the cross during the hour-long procession itself. Instead, he listened intently to meditations on suffering that he asked an elderly Italian couple to compose for the traditional ceremony. Then, as the final reflection was read aloud, the Pontiff was handed the slender, lightweight wooden cross, which he held steadily for a few minutes.
Thousands of tourists, pilgrims and Romans jammed the boulevard outside the Coliseum and the ancient Roman Forum to pray with him, and listen to hymns, on a mild, cloudy night.
The faithful clutched candles and prayer books and a few held palms or olive branches they had kept from Palm Sunday at the start of the solemn Holy Week ceremonies in the Catholic Church.
“The experience of suffering and of the cross touches all mankind. It touches the family, as well,” the Pope said in a brief homily at the end of the procession, which he observed from an elevated platform.
Dressed in red robes to symbolise the blood shed by Christ, the Pope added that “these days, too, the situation of many families is made worse by the threat of unemployment and other negative effects of the economic crisis”, such as concern about the future of young people.
But he advised families to “look to Christ’s cross. There we can find the courage and strength to press on.”
Strength from God, Pope Benedict sought to assure the faithful, will help families “make sacrifices and overcome every obstacle”.
After his appearance at the Coliseum, the Pope’s next public ceremony was the Easter Vigil Mass celebrated in St Peter’s Basilica yesterday evening. Late this morning, he will preside over an Easter Mass in St Peter’s Square that is expected to be packed with tens of thousands of people and at noon he will deliver the traditional Easter address. (AP)