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Archive for Saturday, April 19, 2003

Iraqis join Good Friday procession

Ailing pope prays for ‘victims of hate, war and terrorism’

April 19, 2003

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— Four Iraqis shouldered a tall wooden cross for ailing Pope John Paul II during the Good Friday procession, marked by the pontiff's special prayer for "victims of hate, war and terrorism."

Thousands of flickering candles held aloft by the faithful lighted the procession around the ancient Colosseum, a traditional Roman Catholic event symbolizing Christ's path to his crucifixion.

John Paul asked God to "look upon the blood shed by so many victims of hate, war and terrorism and kindly permit that the course of world events play out according to your will in justice and peace."

The 82-year-old pontiff thanked God that he could once again participate in one of Christianity's holiest days.

Until two years ago, John Paul carried the cross for the entire half-mile procession. But he remained seated Friday, relying on others to bear the burden.

At one point, an Iraqi mother and her daughter shouldered the wooden cross for several yards. The two, who declined to give their names, told reporters they fled Baghdad several months ago so that the woman's husband wouldn't have to fight for Saddam Hussein.

Later, the cross was passed to the pontiff by an Iraqi couple who have lived in Italy for several years.

Before the Iraq war, John Paul repeatedly expressed opposition to the conflict and since has voiced concern for the victims.

Others selected to carry the cross included the widow and son of Carlo Urbani, the World Health Organization doctor from Italy who first alerted the world to the existence of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in Hanoi, Vietnam, and then died from the illness March 29.

Without naming any country, the pope recalled in his speech the "deaths from hunger and hardship of thousands of innocent adults and children, to the insult of human dignity, unfortunately perpetrated sometimes in the name of God."

John Paul said that it was apt that the procession was held at the Colosseum, "a symbol of times past of this great Roman empire which collapsed, and the Christian martyrs" who gave their lives for the faith in the ancient arena.

Earlier in the day, the pope heard confessions from 10 Catholics in St. Peter's Basilica, keeping up a tradition in a Holy Week tinged by his concern for victims of the Iraqi war. The frail pontiff was wheeled into the basilica, and his aides helped him into a mahogany confessional booth near the main altar.

The pope will challenge his stamina by conducting a late-night vigil service today in the basilica and an Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square, then delivering an Easter message that again is expected to focus on suffering caused by the Iraqi war and other conflicts.

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