Christians mark Good Friday with prayers

Pope Benedict XVI encouraged those threatened by unemployment and other economic woes to draw courage and strength from the suffering of the crucified Christ as the pontiff presided over a Good Friday candle-lit procession at the ancient Colosseum.

Christians around the world gathered to commemorate the death of Jesus, who they believe was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday. 

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged those threatened by unemployment and other economic woes to draw courage and strength from the suffering of the crucified Christ as the pontiff presided over a Good Friday candle-lit Way of the Cross procession at the ancient Colosseum.

Benedict, who turns 85 on April 16, didn't carry the cross during the hour-long procession itself. Instead, he listened intently to mediations on suffering that he asked an elderly Italian couple to compose for the traditional ceremony. Then, as the final reflection was read aloud, the pontiff was handed the slender, lightweight wooden cross, which he held steadily for a few minutes.

Thousands of tourists, pilgrims and Romans jammed the boulevard outside the Colosseum and the ancient Roman Forum to pray with him on a mild, cloudy night and listen to hymns.

Faithful clutched candles and prayer books. A few held palms or olive branches they had saved from Palm Sunday, which opened solemn Holy Week ceremonies in the Catholic church.

"The experience of suffering and of the cross touches all mankind. It touches the family, too," the pope said in a brief homily at the end of the procession, which he observed from an elevated landing.

Dressed in red robes to symbolize the blood shed by Jesus, the pope added that "these days, too, the situation of many families is made worse by the threat of unemployment and other negative effects of the economic crisis," such as worry about the future of young people.

Good Friday around the world

  • Palestinian Catholics in the West Bank town of Beit Jala, just west of Bethlehem, re-enacted the 14 stations of the cross in olive groves and vineyards to protest Israel's construction of settlements and separation barriers.
  • In Jerusalem's Old City, Roman Catholics and Protestants marched in processions and led prayers.
  • In a Dublin church, the names of 3,700 dead from Northern Ireland's conflict were read aloud on the 14th anniversary of the Good Friday peace agreement, an annual ceremony designed to underscore the scope of lives lost during the past 46 years of bloodshed over the British territory.
  • In Pakistan, Christians carried a cross through the streets of the southwestern city of Quetta. In the village of Kebonarum, Indonesia a seven-metre zinc plate statue of Jesus Christ was fastened to a cross.
  • Eastern Orthodox Christians follow a different calendar and will mark Good Friday next week.

Filipino devotees nailed to crosses 

Some of the most extreme Good Friday observances happen in the Philippines, where devotees are nailed to crosses as they re-enact Jesus Christ's suffering.

Thousands of people gathered in Philippine villages to watch the yearly rite, which continues even as church leaders discourage the practice.

Nine men wearing crowns of twigs on their heads were crucified for a few minutes by villagers dressed as Roman centurions in northern Pampanga province's San Pedro Cutud village.

At least eight other people were nailed to crosses in neighbouring villages.

The spectacle reflects a unique brand of Catholicism that merges church traditions with Philippine folk superstitions.

Many of the mostly impoverished penitents undergo the ritual to atone for sins, pray for the sick or a better life, or give thanks for what they believe were God-given miracles.

Prior to the crucifixions, dozens of male penitents walked several kilometers through village streets, beating their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks and pieces of wood. Some of the penitents had their backs inflicted with cuts to keep them bloody.

"We do not judge and condemn, but we discourage it," Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said of the crucifixions.

The Rev. Melvin Castro, also of the CBCP, said "the church's position is there's no need to go through this physical and literal pain on the body because Christ already did that for us."

He said what the church asks is for people to "enter into the passion and death of Christ by internal sacrifices," including going to confession and giving alms.