Pope Benedict XVI Leads Pilgrims in Way of the Cross

Pope Benedict XVI reflected on "diabolical" threats to families and the gap between the world's rich and poor as he led a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday.

As a full moon hung behind the ancient amphitheater, Benedict compared Jesus' suffering at his crucifixion to that of 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."

Wearing a red cloak, Benedict gripped the slender, dark wooden cross as he began the procession re-enacting Jesus' suffering, final hours and crucifixion death, and the reflection of the flickering lights of candles held by faithful played on the wood.

Benedict then delivered remarks to thousands of assembled pilgrims and tourists.

"In the mirror of the cross we have seen all the suffering of humanity today. We saw the suffering of abandoned, abused children ... threats against families, the division in the world in the pride of the rich and the misery of all those who suffer hunger and thirst," Benedict said.

Last year, John Paul II failed to preside over the Colosseum ceremony for the first time in his papacy. Instead, only eight days before his death, John Paul silently watched the ritual on television from his papal apartment and listened to the meditations, which had been composed by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the churchman who would be elected pontiff after John Paul's death, taking the name Benedict XVI.

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

One of the reflections that the pope listened to during the procession was a scathing denunciation of what was called attacks on families.

"Today we seem to be witnessing a kind of anti-Genesis, a counter-plan, a diabolical pride aimed at eliminating the family," said the meditation, composed by Archbishop Angelo Comastri.

Benedict has been vigorously keeping up a campaign by John Paul II against laws permitting gay marriage, abortion and other developments the Vatican views as undermining the institution of the family.

During an earlier service at St. Peter's Basilica, Benedict heard a homily by the papal household's preacher, who attacked works such as best-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code" that deny Vatican teaching about Jesus and his life. The preacher lamented that a movie was being made about the work of fiction by writer Dan Brown.

Elsewhere in the world, Catholics marked Good Friday with other rituals, including one in San Pedro Cutud, Philippines, where at least seven Filipino devotees were nailed to a cross, 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.

In Jerusalem's Old City, thousands of Good Friday pilgrims from around the world filled the narrow streets, retracing the route that Jesus followed on the way to his crucifixion. The processions ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which marks the site of the crucifixion.

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."

In Mexico, thousands across the country took part in Passion plays reconstructing the story of Christ's betrayal and execution, with the biggest performance in Mexico City's working class Iztapalapa barrio, where nearly 5,000 people participated in a Passion play in the baking sun.

In the role of Jesus was 24-year-old Cristian Ramses, who dragged a 210-pound cross for three miles while other actors jeered at him. Earlier, he was whipped by actors in Roman military uniforms.

"Since I was a kid, I've always wanted to do this," Ramses told the Televisa television network. "When I was chosen, I couldn't believe it. It was so emotional, I wanted to cry and shout. It filled me with happiness."