Presiding at a Good Friday service, Pope Francis I asked God for forgiveness for scandals in the Catholic Church and for the “shame” of humanity as he deplored the suffering of migrants, victims of racism and persecuted Christians.
Francis presided at a traditional candlelight Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) service at Rome’s Colosseum attended by some 20,000 people and protected by heavy security following recent attacks in European cities.
At the end of the two-hour service, Francis read a prayer he wrote that was woven around the theme of shame and hope.
In what appeared to be a reference to the Church’s sexual abuse scandal, he spoke of “shame for all the times that we bishops, priests, brothers and nuns scandalized and wounded your body, the Church.”
The Catholic Church has been struggling for nearly two decades to put the scandal of sexual abuse of children by clergy behind it. Critics say more must be done to punish bishops who covered up abuse or were negligent in preventing it.
Francis also spoke of the shame he said should be felt over “the daily spilling of the innocent blood of women, of children, of immigrants” and for the fate of those who are persecuted because of their race, social status or religious beliefs.
At the end of this month Francis travels to Egypt, which has seen a spate of attacks by extremists on minority Coptic Christians. Dozens were killed in two attacks last Sunday.
Egyptian Copts observed a solemn Good Friday with prayers and fasting, as the community reeled from the bombings.
He spoke of “shame for all the scenes of devastation, destruction and drownings that have become ordinary in our lives.”
On the day he spoke, more than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were plucked from the Mediterranean in a series of dramatic rescues and one person was found dead. More than 650 have died or are unaccounted for while trying to cross the sea in rubber dinghies this year.
Francis expressed the hope “that good will triumph despite its apparent defeat.”
This year an Egyptian couple and their three young daughters carried a large cross for part of the Via Crucis procession, descending through the Colosseum and then outside into the crowd.
Worshippers from Portugal and Colombia — two countries the pontiff is set to visit in May and September respectively — also took part in the procession, taking turns to carry the cross along with two Chinese Christians.
Security was stepped up in the area around the Colosseum following recent truck attacks against pedestrians in London and Stockholm. Some 3,000 police guarded the area and checked people as they approached. The Colosseum subway stop was closed.
Francis on Saturday is due to say an Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and on Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, he reads his twice-annual “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and the World”) message in St. Peter’s Square.