Pilgrims flock to Colosseum Good Friday event, led by pope

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pilgrims and tourists flocked to the Colosseum for the Way of the Cross procession to join Pope Francis for a Good Friday night ritual in Rome.

The procession commemorates the suffering of Jesus. This year, meditations to be read aloud during the ceremony will reflect on the modern-day plight of migrants whose traffickers force them to endure prostitution and other humiliations.

As part of heightened security, buses and other traffic were re-routed away from the ancient Roman arena for the evocative, torch-carrying procession, which draws thousands of faithful annually.

Composing the meditations for Way of the Cross, or Via Crucis, event was an Italian missionary nun, Eugenia Bonetti, who has worked for a quarter-century rescuing migrants and other women forced into prostitution on Italy’s streets by human traffickers and other exploiters.

Francis has frequently championed the welfare of migrants, and denounced human traffickers.

In an early evening prayer service, in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis listened in silence to a homily by the papal preacher. Readings focused on the torture and suffering Jesus endured before being executed upon a wooden cross.

Wearing bright-red colored robes, to symbolize the blood shed by Jesus, Francis was helped by aides to kneel in quiet reflection, with his head bowed and hands folded.

He also took his turn kissing a crucifix held up in the center aisle of the cavernous basilica, then pressed his forehead for a moment against the wooden statue depicting Jesus. In another moment, he prostrated himself on the basilica floor in a sign of humility.

Solemn Holy Week ceremonies lead to the joyous celebrations of Easter Sunday, when Christians mark their belief of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.