ROME – Pope Benedict XVI presided over a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday and said he was praying so that people who suffered losses in Italy's devastating quake can see the light of hope in their dark hour.
Tens of thousands of faithful, clutching prayer books and candles in paper lanterns, turned out for the traditional Holy Week appointment at the ancient Roman arena.
"Let us pray for all those who feel sorrow, above all for those suffering in the quake-stricken area of L'Aquila," Benedict urged, speaking at the end of the procession about the Apennine mountain town near the epicenter.
"Let us pray that the star of hope appears to them in this dark night," he said.
Suffering and hope were the motif of the meditations read aloud as faithful carried the slender, lightweight cross in the shadows cast by the Colosseum's massive stones.
Benedict told the faithful they had come to "sing together a hymn of hope. We want to tell ourselves that all is not lost in moments of difficulty."
Benedict, who turns 82 next week, wore a crimson-colored, ermine-trimmed cape against the cool night air. Kneeling on a terrace overlooking the Colosseum, he folded his hands in prayer and bowed his head in reflection.
The ritual commemorates Jesus' suffering in the hours before his crucifixion and his death on the cross.
Jesus' face is "reflected in that of every person who is humiliated and offended, sick and suffering, alone, abandoned and despised," Benedict said.
Through his suffering, Jesus has "broken the solitude of our tears, he has entered our every grief and our every anxiety," the pope said in remarks at the end of the 90-minute long procession.
Among those holding the cross were a young man in a wheelchair and a mother flanked by her family.
A candlelit cross atop one of the monument's stone tiers twinkled in the night.
Earlier in the day, Benedict sent a message to survivors at a mass funeral for many of those who perished in Monday's earthquake, urging them to continue to hope amid their sorrow.
The 6.3 magnitude quake struck near the Apennine mountain town of L'Aquila as people slept, toppling apartment houses, collapsing churches and leaving many other building severely damaged. At least 290 people perished, more than 1,000 were injured and 40,000 were left homeless.
Holy Week ceremonies culminate in Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square. On Saturday night, the pope will celebrate an Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.