Pope Benedict XVI encouraged those threatened by unemployment and other economic woes to draw courage and strength from the suffering of the crucified Jesus Christ as the pontiff presided over a Good Friday candlelit Way of the Cross procession at the ancient Colosseum.
Benedict, who turns 85 on April 16, didn't carry the cross during the hour-long procession itself. Instead, he listened intently to meditations on suffering that he asked an elderly Italian couple to compose for the traditional ceremony. Then, as the final reflection was read aloud, the pontiff was handed the slender, lightweight wooden cross, which he held steadily for a few minutes.
Thousands of tourists, pilgrims and Romans jammed the boulevard outside the Colosseum and the ancient Roman Forum to pray with him on a mild, cloudy night and listen to hymns.
Faithful clutched candles and prayer books. A few held palms or olive branches they had saved from Palm Sunday, which opened solemn Holy Week ceremonies in the Catholic church.
"The experience of suffering and of the cross touches all mankind. It touches the family, too," the pope said in a brief homily at the end of the procession, which he observed from an elevated landing.
Dressed in red robes to symbolize the blood shed by Jesus, the pope added that "these days, too, the situation of many families is made worse by the threat of unemployment and other negative effects of the economic crisis," such as worry about the future of young people.
But Benedict advised families to "look to Christ's cross. There we can find the courage and strength to press on."
Strength from God, Benedict sought to assure the faithful, will help families "to make sacrifices and to overcome every obstacle."
After the Colosseum appearance, Benedict's next public ceremony is an Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday evening. Late Sunday morning, he will preside over an Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square, expected to be jammed by tens of thousands of people.
Finally at noon Sunday, the pope will deliver a traditional Easter address to the square. On Easter, Christianity's most joyous day, Christians commemorate what they believe is Christ's resurrection from the dead.
Earlier on Friday, Benedict heard the papal household's preacher deliver a homily in St. Peter's Basilica and knelt in prayer.