Pope leads torch-lit Good Friday procession

FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press
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Faithful attend the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession celebrated by Pope Francis in front of the Colosseum on Good Friday in Rome, Friday, April 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Faithful attend the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession celebrated by Pope Francis in front of the Colosseum on Good Friday in Rome, Friday, April 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME (AP) — Desperate migrants, suicidal failed business owners, torture victims and all people suffering in the world were remembered at a torch-lit Good Friday Way of the Cross procession presided over by Pope Francis at the Colosseum.

With his head bowed and eyes often closed, Francis joined tens of thousands of faithful in listening to meditations read aloud in the ancient arena in downtown Rome. One meditation, read by Italian actress Virna Lisi, singled out the plight of child soldiers. Other readings recalled migrants who risk death in trying to reach the shores of affluent nations, women and children enslaved by human traffickers, and inmates in overcrowded prisons.

Pope Francis leads the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession celebrated in front of the Colosseum on Good Friday in Rome, Friday, April 18, 2014. The evening Via Crucis procession at the ancient amphitheater is a Rome tradition that draws a large crowd of faithful, including many of the pilgrims who flock to the Italian capital for Holy Week ceremonies before Easter Sunday. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis leads the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession celebrated in front of the Colosseum on Good Friday in Rome, Friday, April 18, 2014. The evening Via Crucis procession at the ancient amphitheater is a Rome tradition that draws a large crowd of faithful, including many of the pilgrims who flock to the Italian capital for Holy Week ceremonies before Easter Sunday. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

The selection of subjects reflected the pope’s resolve to focus the Catholic church’s attention on those who suffer, often on the margins of society. The motif of the marginalized also mirrored much of Francis’ outreach in his first year of his papacy. His first pilgrimage outside of Rome as pope took him to a tiny island near Sicily where thousands of migrants arrive on smugglers’ rickety boats.

Francis wore a white overcoat over a plain white cassock against the chill of the night.

Considering Good Friday, which commemorates Jesus’ death by crucifixion, as a day for silence, Francis chose not to prepare any homily for the service, Vatican officials said.

Pope Francis celebrates a Good Friday Passion service, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis celebrates a Good Friday Passion service, in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Another of the meditations spoke of children whose health might be endangered by Italian mobsters’ dumping of toxic wastes in their neighborhoods and farmland near Naples. Mothers of the children had written to the pope in hopes of drawing attention to the problem.

Outside the Colosseum and along the broad boulevard approaching it, tens of thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Romans stood elbow-to-elbow. They clutched prayer books and candles, in holders fashioned from brightly colored paper.

Many of them and tens of thousands more are expected to crowd into St. Peter’s Square on Sunday for Easter Mass celebrated by Francis at the Vatican.

Pope Francis kisses the crucifix during the Good Friday Passion service, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April  18, 2014. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis kisses the crucifix during the Good Friday Passion service, in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis lays prostrate on the floor in prayer before presiding over a Good Friday Passion service, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April  18, 2014. (AP Photo/Stefano Rellandini, Pool)

Pope Francis lays prostrate on the floor in prayer before presiding over a Good Friday Passion service, in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Stefano Rellandini, Pool)

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