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Tight Security For Pope at Easter Prayers in Rome - 2004-04-10


In Rome, thousands of Christian pilgrims came to the Coliseum on Good Friday, the day Christians mark the crucifixion of Christ, to take part in the Way of the Cross procession presided over by Pope John Paul II. Before being allowed into the Coliseum, the pilgrims had to undergo security checks, part of the measures Italian authorities have imposed during this Holy Week.

The Way of the Cross procession, symbolizing Christ's path to his crucifixion, took place as every year at the ruins of Rome's ancient Coliseum. Despite security concerns and a chilly evening, thousands of faithful participated, virtually all of them carrying candles.

Wearing white robes, the pope led prayers as he sat in a chair under a canopy. He observed the procession and listened to meditations about Christ's suffering written by a French monk. Some pilgrims had tears in their eyes during the solemn event.

The pope, soon to celebrate his 84th birthday, spoke in a relatively clear voice during the late evening outdoor service. Despite concerns over his health, the Pope is participating in all the events of the busy Easter calendar.

He was handed the wooden cross by a young woman from Madrid and held it for the 14th and last station. The pontiff used to carry the cross during the procession, but stopped three years ago because of difficulty walking.

Security was extremely tight at the Coliseum and in and around Saint Peter's Square and Basilica. Pilgrims were being searched thoroughly and made to walk through metal detectors. Italian authorities have intensified the police presence in the city over Holy Week.

While stressing that no specific threats had been received, authorities say the Vatican has long been considered a potential target of Islamic terror attacks because of its importance as the center of Christianity.

Earlier Friday the pope presided over a Passion of the Lord service in Saint Peter's Basilica in which the faithful recalled the last hours of Christ's life before he was crucified.

In the morning the pope also heard confessions from Catholics of different nationalities.

Pope John Paul will be presiding over an Easter vigil Mass on Saturday. He will celebrate Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square, from where he will deliver his Easter message and blessing to the world.

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