Rome Braving the chill of a rainy night, Pope John Paul II led prayers at the traditional Way of the Cross procession on Good Friday at the Colosseum as thousands of faithful turned out despite concerns about security.
The bad weather and the long day were the latest test of the 83-year-old pontiff's frail health and stamina during Holy Week ceremonies.
Barely two hours earlier, John Paul presided over a two-hour Good Friday service in St. Peter's Basilica in which he struggled to his knees to pray and kissed a wooden crucifix held to him.
The pope used to carry a lightweight wooden cross in the evening procession but stopped three years ago because of his difficulty in walking.
Friday night, wearing white robes, John Paul sat in a chair and observed the procession, which symbolically traces Christ's path to his Crucifixion.
"Brothers and sisters, yet again we are reunited in following the Lord Jesus on the path that led him to Calvary," the pope said in an opening prayer.
John Paul's public day began at noon, when he heard confessions from 11 Roman Catholics. The pontiff, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and knee ailments, was wheeled into the basilica by aides and into a mahogany confessional booth near the main altar. He spent about an hour there, listening to the confessions of five men and six women.
The pope will preside over an Easter vigil Mass tonight. Sunday he'll celebrate Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square and deliver his Easter message and blessing.
Pilgrims and tourists passed through metal detectors to enter the basilica, one of a number of security measures taken in Rome.
Italian officials said security has been increased at the Vatican, monuments, churches and train stations for the holidays, calling the steps "routine" and stressing there have been no specific threats.