Pope John Paul II’s own suffering kept him away from his flock on Good Friday, but he appeared via video at Rome’s torchlit Colosseum at the Way of the Cross commemoration of Christ’s suffering.
The faithful who had gathered at the Colosseum cheered and waved torches as the Pope appeared on large screens at the start of the evening procession – the first time he has been physically absent in his 26-year pontificate. He did not speak.
John Paul was seen sitting alone in his private chapel at the Vatican, wearing white robes and a red stole, watching the procession on a television screen under the chapel altar.
The pontiff also sent a message to the crowd which was read at the start by his vicar for Rome,
Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini. In it, John Paul said he was spiritually among those at the Colosseum recalling Christ’s last hours.
“I also offer my suffering, so that God’s design is completed and his word walks among the people,” the message said.
“I am near all those who in these moments are tested by suffering. I pray for each of them,” he said.
Vatican TV installed giant television screens at the Colosseum and on the plateau overlooking the Colosseum where the Pope used to sit there was a torchlit cross.
Images of the Pope from his Vatican chapel were broadcast several more times during the ceremony.
The 84-year-old pontiff’s physical suffering has been evident for years as he battled Parkinson’s disease and crippling hip and knee ailments.
But it has worsened with the effects of breathing problems that prompted two hospitalisations in a month and added poignancy to this week’s Holy Week ceremonies – the most solemn events on the church calendar.
John Paul has been absent for the major events of Holy Week, although he appeared silently at his studio window twice this week and delivered messages telling the faithful that he is spiritually near them as he recovers.
The Pope has not spoken in public since shortly before he was released from the hospital March 13. His only commitment during Holy Week is to deliver a blessing on Easter Sunday.
John Paul watched Holy Thursday services recalling the Last Supper of Christ on television from his Vatican apartment, and he relinquished another cherished tradition this morning when he didn’t hear the confessions of faithful in St Peter’s Basilica.