Thousands of people holding candles turned out at Rome’s Colosseum to see Pope Francis mark the first Good Friday of his pontificate with a traditional “Way of the Cross” procession around the ancient amphitheatre.
Francis, who was elected on March 13, sat under a red canopy on Rome’s Palatine Hill as representatives of the faithful from around the world alternated carrying a wooden cross on the day Christians commemorated Jesus’s death by crucifixion.
“Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if he is silent,” the Argentine pope said, speaking slowly in Italian and in a sombre voice at the end of the evening service.
“And yet, God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the Cross of Christ: a word which is love, mercy, forgiveness. It is also reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us,” he said.
“Christians must respond to evil with good,” he said, urging them to beware “the evil that continues to work in us and around us”.
The meditations for the 14 “stations of the cross” which commemorate events in the last hours of Jesus’s life - from when Pontius Pilate condemned him to death to his burial in a rock tomb - were written by young people from Lebanon.
The wooden cross was passed from one group and person to another - including a person in a wheelchair. Those who carried it came from Italy, India, China, Nigeria, Syria, Lebanon and Brazil.
Several of the meditations, read by actors, referred to conflict in the Middle East and the suffering of its people.
One meditation called the Middle East “a land lacerated by injustice and violence”.
Francis praised those Lebanese Christians and Muslims who tried to live together and who, he said, in doing so gave a sign of hope to the world.
Prayers were read our for exploited and abused children, refugees, the homeless and victims of religious intolerance, war, violence, terrorism, poverty, injustice and drug addiction.
There were also prayers against abortion and euthanasia.
Good Friday is the second of four hectic days leading up to Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar.
On Holy Thursday, two young women were among 12 people whose feet the pope washed and kissed at a traditional ceremony in a Rome youth prison, the first time a pontiff has included females in the rite.
After celebrating an Easter eve service, on Easter Sunday he will deliver his first “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message in St. Peter’s Square.