Pope Francis praised the "friendship of so many Muslim brothers" during the Good Friday procession that re-enacts Jesus Christ's crucifixion and this year was dedicated to the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
The nighttime Way of the Cross procession at Rome's Colosseum is one of the most dramatic rituals of Holy Week, when Christians commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ. With torches lighting the way, the faithful carried the cross to different stations where meditations and prayers were read out recalling the final hours of Christ's life.
This year, the meditations read out were composed by young Lebanese faithful. Many of the prayers referred to the plight of Mideast Christians and called for an end to "violent fundamentalism," terrorism and the "wars and violence which in our days devastate various countries in the Middle East."
Francis, who became pope just weeks ago, chose, however, to stress Christians' positive relations with Muslims in the region in his brief comments at the end of the ceremony.
He recalled Benedict XVI's 2012 visit to Lebanon when "we saw the beauty and the strong bond of communion joining Christians together in that land and the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters and so many others," he said. "That occasion was a sign to the Middle East and to the whole world: a sign of hope."
Before becoming pope, Francis was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and he long cultivated warm relations with Muslim leaders in his native Argentina.
Pilgrims throng Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, hundreds of Christians streamed through the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City on Friday, hoisting wooden crosses and chanting prayers to mark the crucifixion of Jesus.
Throngs of pilgrims walked a traditional Good Friday procession that retraces Jesus' steps along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the "Way of Suffering." They followed his 14 stations, saying a prayer at each and ending at the ancient Holy Sepulcher church.
Along the route, Franciscan friars in brown robes chanted prayers in Latin and explained the different stations to crowds through a megaphone. One man dressed as Jesus wearing a crown of thorns was flanked by men posing as Roman soldiers and had fake blood dripping down his chest as he lugged a giant cross down the street.
"The most perfect love that was ever seen in the world was when Jesus died for us. He showed us the perfection of love," said Mary.
Good Friday events kicked off with a morning service at the cavernous Holy Sepulcher, which was built on the place where tradition holds Jesus was crucified, briefly entombed and resurrected. Clergy dressed in colorful robes entered through the church's large wooden doors as worshippers prayed in the church courtyard.
Later Friday, a service was due in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, built atop the traditional site of Jesus' birth. Christians believe Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday.
Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations that observe the new, Gregorian calendar, mark Easter this week. Orthodox Christians, who follow the old, Julian calendar, will mark Good Friday in May.
Less than two per cent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories is Christian, mostly split between Catholicism and Orthodox streams of Christianity. Christians in the West Bank wanting to attend services in Jerusalem must obtain permission from Israeli authorities.
Israel's Tourism Ministry said it expects some 150,000 visitors in Israel during Easter week and the Jewish festival of Passover, which coincide this year.
Filipino devotees re-enact crucifixion
Devotees in villages in the northern Philippines took part in a bloody annual ritual to mark Good Friday, a celebration that mixes Roman Catholic devotion and Filipino folk beliefs and sees some re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The crucified devotees spent several minutes nailed to crosses in Pampanga province while thousands of tourists watched and took photos, which the church discourages. Earlier in the day, hooded male penitents trudged through the province's villages under the blazing sun while flagellating their bleeding backs with makeshift whips. Others carried wooden crosses to dramatize Christ's sacrifice.
Devotees undergo the hardships in the belief that such extreme sacrifices are a way to atone for their sins, attain miracle cures for illnesses or give thanks to God.
Alex Laranang, a 58-year-old vendor who was the first to be nailed to a cross Friday, said he was doing it "for good luck and for my family to be healthy."
It was the 27th crucifixion for sign painter Ruben Enaje, 52, one of the most popular penitents from San Pedro Cutud village. He began his yearly rite after surviving a fall from a building.
Enaje screamed in pain as men dressed as Roman soldiers hammered stainless steel nails into his palms and feet. A wireless microphone carried his voice to loudspeakers for everyone watching to hear.
His cross was raised and he was hanged there for several minutes under the searing afternoon sun before the nails were pulled out and he was taken on a stretcher to a first aid station.
"It's intriguing and fascinating what makes people do something like this, how you can believe so much that you make yourself suffer to that extent," said Dita Tittesass, a tourist from Denmark.
Remigio de la Cruz, the chief of San Pedro Cutud village, explained that the practice began in his village in the 1950s.
Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, told the church-run Radio Veritas that the practice is "not the desire of Jesus Christ."
"We are aware that this has been practiced long before ... but we still hope that this will not be done any more," he said. "We should all concentrate on prayers."