Pope Benedict XVI walks without shoes as he presides over Good Friday services in St. Peter's Basilica. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press).

Pope Benedict XVI has celebrated Good Friday for the first time as pope in a service that included words in Latin and Arabic, and ranged from world peace to The Da Vinci Code and the newly discovered Gospel of Judas.

"Let us pray," he said in Latin, as millions of Roman Catholics around the world joined him in a celebration of world peace.

And he asked God — in Arabic — to enlighten the hearts and minds of the world's leaders.

The pontiff, who turns 79 on Easter Sunday, then carried a tall wooden crucifix as he led thousands of worshippers from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome towards the Colosseum nearby where he visited the Stations of the Cross, which represent the events in Christ's passion.

Former Pope John Paul II died on April 2 last year, one week after the Easter celebrations. The dying pontiff was too ill to participate in the procession last year, but he watched the service on television in his papal apartments in the Vatican as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger prayed in the basilica below.


Pope Benedict XVI, in a red cloak, carries the cross during the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession on Good Friday in front of the Colosseum in Rome. (Andrew Medichini/Associated Press)

Ratzinger went on to become the next pope.

It was an eclectic service on Friday. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the official preacher to the Pope, spoke about the popular book, The Da Vinci Code, saying he could do nothing to stop the endless speculation that the book and the forthcoming movie version have sparked.

A work of fiction, the book speculates that Jesus escaped the cross, married Mary Magdalene and had children.

Cantalamessa also delivered a scathing broadside at the newly-released Gospel of Judas, an ancient document that claims that Jesus asked Judas to betray him to the Romans. He said the media were more interested in novelty than truth.

Roman Catholics worldwide celebrated Good Friday in a host of ways. In Toronto, hundreds of worshippers followed a statue of Jesus in the pouring rain. In Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver, they attended church services.

In Jerusalem, they followed Jesus' last steps to the hill where he was crucified. And in the Philippines, nine Filipinos re-enacted the crucifixion by nailing themselves to a wooden cross as scores of other pilgrims flagellated themselves.

The annual re-enactment in the village of San Pedro Cutud, about 80 kilometres north of Manila, is frowned upon by the local church. But it has become one of the most awaited events in the local church calendar.