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Good Friday marked with prayer, pleas for peace

Boys in Mexico City carried crosses up a hill yesterday during one of Mexico's largest Holy Week commemorations. (GREGORY BULL/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

JERUSALEM -- Christians around the world marked Good Friday with prayer, processions, and pleas for peace.

Thousands of pilgrims, some carrying large wooden crosses and others holding candles, wended their way through the narrow lanes of Jerusalem's Old City, retracing the route along which the Bible says Jesus made his way to the crucifixion.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI carried the cross at the beginning of the traditional Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum. He described the procession as, "a journey into pain, solitude, and cruelty -- into evil and death."

"But it will also be a path trod in faith, hope and love, because the tomb which is the final stop on our way will not remain sealed for ever," the pope said of Easter Sunday, when Jesus is believed to have risen from the dead.

Benedict handed over the cross to Rome Cardinal Camillo Ruini, his vicar for Rome. Other faithful, including a young Congolese woman and a family from Rome, took turns carrying the cross for a few steps. Today, the pope will officiate at an Easter Eve Mass.

In Mexico City, more than 500,000 people turned out yesterday for the annual Passion play in the capital's working-class Iztapalapa neighborhood. Thousands participated in the procession, many lugging heavy crosses through the streets.

Officials said it was the 164th year that the Passion play has been enacted in the neighborhood, although there are references to earlier performances in Mexico City going back to the 16th century.

In the Mexican silver-mining town of Taxco, hooded men belonging to a Catholic brotherhood slapped their backs bloody with nail-studded whips and dragged their shackled bare feet across rough cobblestone streets. Others carried thorny blackberry branches tied across their outstretched arms.

On Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa -- or Way of Sorrows -- visitors from the United States, India, South Korea, the Philippines, Russia, and many other countries followed the traditional route of Christ's final walk, stopping at 14 stations, each marking an event that befell Jesus on the way to his death.

The final five stations are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition says Jesus was stripped, crucified, and finally laid to rest before his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

In a reenactment of those last hours, a Korean pilgrim played the role of Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns, dragging a cross and covered with fake blood. He was escorted by other pilgrims dressed as Roman legionnaires.

"The Lord moves us to come here," said Bob Payton of Orange County, Calif., playing the part of a Roman soldier in his third Good Friday visit.

In his traditional Good Friday message, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, appealed to politicians of all faiths to bring an end to the region's ongoing violence.

"What's happening now, in our Holy Land here, is believers in God killing each other in the name of God; Jews, Muslims, Christians," he said. "We hope, we wish, for political leaders who will have the courage to go and find the right ways for peace."