Originally created 04/11/98

Christians celebrate Good Friday; Pope hears confessions



VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II heard confessions in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday, when Christians around the world marked Jesus' crucifixion with solemn processions and painful rituals of penitence.

The pope was to carry a wooden cross for a short stretch of a Friday evening procession at the Colosseum in Rome. After hip surgery in 1994, John Paul reduced his participation in the annual event, which symbolizes Christ's suffering before his crucifixion.

The meditation for Friday's ceremony was to pay special attention to the suffering of women and lament that Christians long made Jews suffer by holding them responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. A landmark 1965 Vatican document said Jews should not be held collectively responsible.

Elsewhere on Good Friday, thousands of pilgrims retraced Jesus' last steps in Jerusalem, some shouldering wooden crosses or fingering rosaries. In the Philippines, 18 people screamed and grimaced on crosses while nails were driven through their hands and feet. And dozens of repentant men in Taxco, Mexico, whipped themselves or strapped 100 pounds of thorny blackberry stalks to their bare shoulders in penance.

Holy week culminates Sunday with Easter, when Christians celebrate their belief in Jesus' resurrection. John Paul will celebrate an open-air Mass and deliver a message and Easter greetings in more than 50 languages.

The Vatican said John Paul heard the confessions Friday of 16 people -- from Burkina Faso, Italy, Spain, the United States and his native Poland -- in St Peter's, a tradition he began in 1979.

Brown-robed Franciscan monks led pilgrims in Jerusalem through the Old City's cobblestone alleys singing hymns in Arabic, Italian, Latin and English. They walked the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows, which tradition says Jesus took to his crucifixion.

Nuns fingered rosaries and pilgrims held up Bibles and small crosses as the procession made its way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. One group reenacted Jesus' last walk in full costume.

Muslim families attending noon prayers at nearby Al Aqsa Mosque had to push their way against the crowd. Friday also marked the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the start of the Jewish holiday, Passover.

Hundreds of Israeli soldiers were posted along the Good Friday procession route. Israel has been on heightened alert because of threats of suicide attacks by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, pilgrims placed silk cloth and Bibles on the slab where tradition says Jesus was placed after dying. "I'm impressed to see all the nationalities here for the same cause," said Andrew Hayes, a monk from Valyermo, Calif.

John G. Luck, of Ottawa bought wooden souvenir crosses after the procession. "Incredible," he said of his experience.

In Mexico City, more than 1,600 people were participating in an elaborate annual play in which an actor playing Christ carries a 200-pound cross two miles through the streets of the poor Iztapalapa neighborhood. More than 1 million people were expected to attend.

Members of Christian brotherhoods based in Taxco, 100 miles southwest of Mexico City, whipped themselves or carried heavy bundles of thorns -- a tradition honored in the picturesque mining town for more than 200 years.

The men consider Holy Week the crest of their devotion. They have undergone at least a year of religious preparation to participate in processions that began Tuesday and mark the days leading to Christ's resurrection. They walk before the faithful and the curious while clouds of incense billow and boys pound somber marches on drums.

Each man has his own reason for enduring the pain, said Javier Ruiz Ocampo, the town's official historian. Some hope to please God for the benefit of a sick relative, or to pay for a sin of their own. Others simply pray for world peace.

Outside San Pedro Cutud village in the Philippines, an annual re-enactment of Jesus' crucifixion drew 15 participants and hundreds of tourists. Fourteen men and one woman were nailed to crosses in the hot sun, where they remained for a few minutes in a form of penance.

A man dressed as a centurion used a spear to make a small cut to draw blood from the chest of the men.

Three men also were nailed to crosses outside a chapel in the village of Lugam. And thousands of barefoot penitents crowded the streets of Manila's Quiapo district to worship at the Church of the Black Nazarene.

The crucifixion ritual has continued for more than 40 years in the Philippines, Asia's only predominately Roman Catholic nation.