Pope Benedict XVI reflected on "diabolical" threats to families and the gap between the world's rich and poor as he led a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday.
As a full moon hung behind the ancient amphitheater, Benedict compared Jesus' suffering at his crucifixion with that of the "whole of human history, a history where the good are humiliated, the meek assaulted, the honest crushed and the pure of heart roundly mocked."
Wearing a red cloak, Benedict, who turns 79 on Easter Sunday, gripped the slender, dark wooden cross as he began the procession re-enacting Jesus' suffering, final hours and crucifixion death, and the reflection of the flickering lights of candles held by faithful played on the wood.
"In the mirror of the cross we have seen all the suffering of humanity today. We saw the suffering of abandoned, abused children ... threats against families, the division in the world in the pride of the rich and the misery of all those who suffer hunger and thirst," Benedict said.
Last year, John Paul II failed to preside over the Colosseum ceremony for the first time in his papacy. Instead, only eight days before his death, John Paul silently watched the ritual on television from his papal apartment and listened to the meditations, which had been composed by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the churchman who would be elected pontiff after John Paul's death, taking the name Benedict XVI.
Elsewhere in the world, Catholics marked Good Friday with other rituals, including one in San Pedro Cutud, Philippines, where at least seven Filipino devotees were nailed to a cross, organizers said.
The Lenten ritual is opposed by religious leaders in the Philippines, but it has persisted to become one of the country's most-awaited summer attractions in the village about 45 miles north of Manila.
In Jerusalem's Old City, thousands of Good Friday pilgrims from around the world filled the narrow streets, retracing the route that Jesus followed on the way to his crucifixion. The processions ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which marks the site of the crucifixion.
A group of Californians who re-enact Jesus' final walk in costume every year began their procession around midday. A man portraying a blood-soaked Jesus wearing a crown of thorns was followed by Roman soldiers dressed in red and gold as he carried a large wooden cross to the Holy Sepulcher. He did not enter, though, because dressing as Jesus is considered blasphemous by sects within the church.