Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims they could not remain neutral when faced with the evils of the world, after leading Catholics in the traditional Good Friday ceremony commemorating the crucifixion of Christ.
Benedict XVI carried the cross for the first time in the Via Crucis ceremony
Watched by thousands of pilgrims packed around the ancient Roman amphitheater, the 78-year-old pope carried a wooden cross at the first and last of the 14 "stations" which for Christians recall Christ's last journey to his crucifixion.
Benedict, wearing a red cape and flanked by a giant flaming cross, said they could not remain "neutral" when faced with the evils of the world -- "the suffering of abused and abandoned children," the threat against the traditional family, the "divisions" in the world and gap between rich and poor.
His five-minute address came at the end of a grim ceremony on the most solemn day of the Christian calendar, during which he had listened as actors read out a meditation on Christ's suffering, prepared by Archbishop Angelo Comastri, the vicar general for the Vatican City.
"Cult of satan"
"Lord we have lost our sense of sin," it said. "Today a slick campaign of propaganda is spreading an inane apologia of evil, a senseless cult of Satan, a mindless desire for transgression, a dishonest and frivolous freedom, exalting impulsiveness, immorality and selfishness as if they were new heights of sophistication…. Lord Jesus, open our eyes, let us see the filth around us for what it is."
The pope waved to the faithful from the square of the Temple of Venus in Rome
During the late-night ceremony Friday, the cross was carried in turn around the ancient Roman amphitheater by an Italian family, an American seminarist, a young nun, two Franciscan monks from the Holy Land, and young people from Nigeria, Angola, Korea and Mexico in an effort to reflect the universality of the Church.
The pope himself, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had prepared the meditations for last year's ceremony, which a dying Pope John Paul II watched on television in his private chapel at the Vatican. He died a week later.
Pope's birthday on Sunday
On Thursday, Benedict began four days of commemorations to mark the Holy Week of Easter, presiding over mass commemorating the Last Supper and the traditional washing of the feet.
The pope washed the feet of 12 priests during the Holy Thursday mass
On Holy Saturday, the pope will preside over an Easter vigil mass in St Peter's Basilica in which thousands of pilgrims will hold candles and renew their baptismal vows.
Benedict will turn 79 on Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate Christ's Resurrection.
The pontiff will deliver the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Easter message from the central loggia of St Peter's Basilica, where he first appeared as pope following his election on April 19 last year.
Last year, celebrations were overshadowed by John Paul II's rapidly deteriorating condition. He could barely speak when he greeted pilgrims massed in Saint Peter's square on Easter Sunday, and the Easter message was delivered by a cardinal.