ROME – Pope Benedict XVI presided over the Good Friday nighttime Way of the Cross procession but did not carry the cross as planned during the tradition, which this year paid tribute to Catholics who are persecuted.
The pope wore a long white coat as he stood sheltered from the cold, pelting rain under a canopy erected on the Palatine Hill overlooking the Colosseum.
At the end of the procession, Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini handed Benedict the tall, slender, lightweight cross. The pope gripped the cross briefly. Then, in a strong voice, he blessed the crowd of thousands being drenched by the rain and buffeted by gusty winds and told them: “Thank you for being patient under the rain. Happy Easter to you.”
The pope was supposed to carry the cross for the final minutes of the more than hour-long procession.
Vatican officials said that because of the storm, it was decided that the pope, who turns 81 next month and has two more days of ceremonies in the days ahead to mark Easter, should stay dry under the canopy.
“We find ourselves united on this day, at this hour, and in this place, which reminds us about your so many servants who, centuries ago, amid the roars of hungry lions and the shouts of the amused crowd, let themselves be ripped apart and fatally attacked for loyalty to your name,” Benedict prayed to God at the start of the procession.
He was referring to systematic martyrdom of many Christians during the first years of the church under the Roman Empire.
The pope lamented that “even today our brothers, in various parts of the world, are still harshly persecuted,” and he said the procession was being undertaken in solidarity with persecuted Catholics.