Vatican City

Francis celebrates first Good Friday as pope

Pontiff follows Stations of the Cross from Palatine

Francis celebrates first Good Friday as pope

(By Paul Virgo) Vatican City, March 29 - Pope Francis's intense Holy Week schedule continued on Friday when he celebrated his first Good Friday as pontiff with some of the Catholic Church's most revered rituals. The Argentine pope presided over a Mass devoted to the Passion of Christ in St Peter's on the holiday commemorating His crucifixion. He started the ceremony by lying prostrate before the basilica's main altar in silent prayer. He was then set to follow the Via Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, trek around the Colosseum. In the hugely popular televised ceremony the Catholic Church recalls Christ's path to the hill of the crucifixion, His death on the cross and His body being taken to the tomb. At each of the 14 stages of the procession, 'meditations' are read out. Popes frequently carry the cross for some of the stations. But Francis, 76, has opted to follow the ceremony from the nearby Palatine Hill, where the Via Crucis ends, as his predecessor Benedict XVI did in the latter years of his papacy. Italian cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Vicar General of Rome, a disabled person, Italian and Nigerian nuns, and some Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land were among the people selected to carry the cross this time. The 2013 Via Crucis meditations were written by a group of young Catholics from Lebanon, under the guidance of the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Rai, who was invited to prepare them following Benedict's visit to Lebanon last year. Many of the themes touched on during the meditations were inspired by the plight of the minority Christian communities in the Middle East. An example is the meditation for Station X, when Jesus is stripped of his garments, written by Lebanese Tony El Chayeb. "Bestow, Lord, upon the children of the Eastern Churches - stripped by various difficulties, sometimes to the point of persecution, and weakened by emigration - the courage to remain in their countries to proclaim the Good News," reads part of the meditation. Francis, who was elected as pope on March 13 after Benedict shocked the world last month by announcing he was stepping down, kicked off Holy Week with last weekend's Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter's Square. He has already charmed the faithful with his relaxed, open, modest style that has contrasted with Benedict's more reserved approach, even though the new pope has shown virtually no difference from his predecessor on social and doctrinal issues. Bolstering his growing reputation for humility, Francis put a new twist on a papal Easter ritual Thursday by washing and kissing the feet of 12 juvenile offenders in a Rome detention centre. Popes usually wash the feet of 12 priests, representing the apostles at the Last Supper. Indeed, some Catholic conservatives were unhappy that among the 12 juveniles were two young women, an Italian Catholic and a Muslim ethnic Serb born in Rome. There were concerns this could be interpreted as an opening to the ordination of women priests, but this has been denied. Kneeling before the group, the pope called the act "a caress from Jesus. "Jesus came exactly for this reason, to serve, to help us," he said. "Don't let your hope be stolen away". Francis will celebrate an Easter eve service late Saturday. Then he will preside over his first Easter Sunday in St Peter's Square as pope. Easter Sunday represents the day of the resurrection of Jesus, making it the most important moment in the Church's liturgical calendar. At the Mass Francis will deliver his first Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) papal address.

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