For the first time, Pope Benedict led the traditional Way of the Cross procession in Rome's ancient Coliseum. Thousands took part in the solemn ceremony. Many thought back to Pope John Paul II who was unable to take part in the event last year.

Thousands of pilgrims carrying candles took part in the Good Friday procession, led for the first time by Pope Benedict. Many thought back to last year when a dying Pope John Paul II was unable to participate in the torch-lit procession.

John Paul watched the Way of the Cross procession, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus, from his apartment at the Vatican. He listened to the meditations that had been written by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Less than a month later that cardinal was elected pope taking the name Benedict. This year, the German pope carried the cross for the first and last stations. Lay people from other nations also carried the cross during the procession.

In his opening prayer he said the Passion of Jesus is the whole of human history, a history, he added, where the good are humiliated, the meek assaulted, the honest crushed and the pure of heart roundly mocked.

"Lord Jesus, tonight we walk once more the way of your cross, knowing that it is also our way. One certainty lights up our path: the way does not end at the cross, but continues beyond, to the Kingdom of Life," he said.

During the procession, one of the fourteen meditations lamented a diabolical pride aimed at eliminating the family, an apparent reference to gay marriage and abortion.

Earlier Friday, the pope celebrated the Passion of the Lord service in Saint Peter's Basilica. During that service the papal preacher blasted the Da Vinci Code.

Without naming the book, he said people today are fascinated with every theory according to which Jesus was not crucified and did not die but ran off with Mary Magdalene.

On Saturday evening Pope Benedict will celebrate an Easter vigil mass and on Sunday he will deliver his Urbi et Orbi - to the city and the world - blessing and message. That day, Pope Benedict will also be celebrating his 79th birthday.