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Pope Celebrates Easter Vigil Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica


Pope Benedict XVI celebrates an Easter Vigil Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica on Holy Saturday. Tens of thousands braved the cold and rain to join him on Good Friday at the traditional Way of the Cross procession at the Coliseum. Sabina Castelfranco has this report for VOA from Rome.

On the eve before Catholics celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, Pope Benedict will celebrate mass in Saint Peter's Basilica. It will be a solemn moment as the faithful prepare for the pope's Easter Sunday message in Saint Peter's Square.

On Good Friday, Pope Benedict presided over a Passion of the Lord service in Saint Peter's Basilica and took part in a rainy procession at Rome's ancient Coliseum. Tens of thousands of worshippers turned out for the nighttime ceremony.

This year the pope did not carry the cross as planned. He stood wearing a long white coat sheltered from the cold and rain under a canopy set up on the Palatine Hill overlooking the Coliseum.

The pope was supposed to carry the cross for the last three stations of the more than hour-long procession. But Vatican officials said that, due to the weather, it was decided that the pope, who turns 81 next month, should stay dry.

At the start of the procession, the pope prayed to God. He said we find ourselves united on this day and in this place, which reminds us about your so many servants who, centuries ago, amid the roars of hungry lions and the shouts of the amused crowd, let themselves be ripped apart and fatally attacked for loyalty to your name.

The meditations for the Way of the Cross procession reflected on the persecution of Catholics. The pope had asked Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong to write them. The cardinal said that in many parts of the world the Church is suffering from persecution.

He did not mention China by name, but spoke of the "living martyrs" who suffer for their faith. A young Chinese woman carried the cross for part of the ceremony.

Pope Benedict has made it a goal of his papacy to address the problems of Catholics in China.

There was no noticeable increase in security during or before the procession. In a message released this week, al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden accused the pope of playing a role in a worldwide campaign against Islam. The Vatican said the charge was unfounded.