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Ailing Pope Leads Good Friday Services - 2002-03-29

Thousands turned out at the Coliseum in Rome for the traditional candlelit Good Friday procession. For the first time in his 23 years as pontiff, Pope John Paul II did not follow on foot the Stations of the Cross, the Catholic Church's most solemn ceremony marking Christ's crucifixion on Good Friday.

The pope's suffering was clearly visible during the Good Friday procession at the Coliseum. Advanced Parkinson's disease and arthritis in his leg have been keeping the 81-year-old pontiff from presiding over some traditional Holy Week events. But so far he has attended all the services.

At the start of the Good Friday procession, the pope slowly rose from his chair and read the opening prayer. He spoke in a tired voice appealing for peace in the Middle East. "Peace to you Jerusalem, city loved by the Lord," he said.

The pope did not take part in the procession from one station to another because doctors told him he should avoid standing. The pope sat for most of the ceremony listening to the meditations written by journalists for each of the 14 Stations of the Cross.

Pope John Paul did stand for the last station, strongly gripping the wooden cross. He then improvised a sermon on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Earlier, the pope heard the confessions of Catholics and took part in a Passion of the Lord Service in St. Peters Basilica. During the sermon, the Vatican priest made an appeal for peace in the Holy Land. Referring to Jerusalem, the priest called for an end to the violence in the city soaked with the blood of Christ.

On Saturday, the pope is to take part in an Easter vigil service and on Easter Sunday he will celebrate mass before imparting his special twice-yearly blessing to the city and to the world.