Pope Benedict XVI presides over Good Friday Via Crucis

Other News Materials 11 April 2009 02:51 (UTC +04:00)

Pope Benedict XVI presided over Rome's traditional Good Friday Way of the Cross procession, and in his concluding address offered condolences for the victims of this week's devastating earthquake in central Italy.

"To all those who suffered ... let us pray that the star of hope and the light of the resurrected Christ may shine on them," Benedict said.

On Friday, which saw a state funeral for many of the victims, the death toll from Monday's earthquake stood at 290.

During the procession, also known as Via Crucis, thousands of people, many carrying candles, wound their way round the Colosseum as they marked the 14 Stations of the Cross that commemorate the last hours leading to Jesus' crucifixion.

The 81-year-old pontiff followed proceedings by kneeling down on a platform situated on the Palatine Hill overlooking the ancient Roman amphitheatre.

Several volunteers, including a disabled man in a wheelchair, took turns in carrying a wooden cross at the head of the procession, while prayers and meditations were read out at each of the 14 intervals.

Penned by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, India, the meditations focused on "evil in the world on pain and on the various forms of suffering."

One meditation noted how Jesus' fight for justice "did not provoke the collective rage of people, with the consequence that they are pushed towards forms of greater injustice."

"Mahatma Gandhi brought into public life this teaching of Jesus on non-violence with surprising success," it added, referring to the Indian politician and Hindu spiritual leader, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, whose mass campaign of civil disobedience led to India's independence. Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu radical.

In an interview published in the Vatican's newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, this week, Menamparampil said he believed Benedict has chosen him to pen the meditations also as a sign of solidarity with India's Christian community, which "has lived in great anxiety over the last few months."

Attacks aimed at India's small Christian minority have increased over the last year.

Dozens of Christians were killed in clashes with Hindus in the eastern state of Orissa in the wake of the August 2008 murder of a Hindu leader - an attack police blamed on Maoist rebels.

In keeping with the Indian theme of this year's Way of the Cross, the Vatican's official brochure for the rite depicts Christ's Passion through a series of illustrations by an Indian nun, Sister Marie Claire Naidu.

The 81-year-old pontiff is also scheduled to lead an Easter vigil at the Vatican on Saturday.

On Easter Sunday, he is to celebrate Mass in St Peter's before delivering his Urbi et Orbi message and blessing "to the city and the world."

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and is regarded by Christians as their most important religious feast, reported dpa.