Protected from the driving rain by an aide's white umbrella, Pope John Paul II carried a wooden cross in a solemn Good Friday procession at the Colosseum to symbolize Christ's suffering before his crucifixion.
Thousands of people stood beneath umbrellas outside the ancient monument, holding candles during the annual ritual enacting Jesus' execution and the events leading to it. The pope walked haltingly for a short stretch, carrying the lightweight cross.
Later, in a homily, John Paul said Christ identifies through his own suffering with the anguish of the "humiliated, downtrodden and exploited" in today's world. "In every person suffering from hatred and violence, or rejected by selfishness and indifference, Christ continues to suffer and die," he said.
For the fourth consecutive year, the pope bore the cross only briefly. The 78-year-old pontiff has been hobbled since undergoing hip-replacement surgery in 1994. Still, his voice sounded firm, and he appeared to gather strength as the evening went on.
Others who joined the pope in bearing the cross during the procession included Catholics from the Philippines, Italy, Argentina, China and Burundi.
The homily marking the Good Friday ritual, known as the Stations of the Cross, was written by Orthodox Christian theologian Olivier Clement of France. It underscored the suffering of women and lamented the pain that Christians have inflicted on Jews by accusing them over the centuries of killing Jesus. A landmark 1965 Vatican document said Jews should not be held collectively responsible for Jesus' death.
In the last year, the pope has devoted special attention to the involvement of Roman Catholics in the Holocaust. A major Vatican document last month expressed remorse for the silence of some Christians during the Holocaust.
In October, the pope said centuries of Catholic prejudice against Jews was based on a misreading of the Christian Gospels. That misinterpretation was to be blamed, he said, for the "deadening" of Christian resistance to Nazism.
Earlier, John Paul heard the confessions of 16 people in St. Peter's Church, a tradition he began in 1979. The confessors came from Burkina Faso, Italy, Spain, the United States and the pope's native Poland, the Vatican said.
Elsewhere on Good Friday, thousands of pilgrims retraced Jesus' last steps in Jerusalem, some shouldering wooden crosses. And in California, Cardinal Roger Mahony participated in a Stations of the Cross service in Compton.
Holy week culminates Sunday with Easter, when Christians celebrate their belief in Jesus' resurrection. John Paul will celebrate an open-air Mass and deliver a message and Easter greetings in more than 50 languages.
In Jerusalem on Friday, Franciscan monks led pilgrims through the Old City singing hymns in Arabic, Italian, Latin and English. They walked the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows, which tradition says Jesus took to his crucifixion.
Nuns fingered rosaries and pilgrims held up Bibles and small crosses as the procession made its way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. One group reenacted Jesus' last walk in full costume.
Muslim families attending noon prayers at nearby Al Aqsa Mosque had to push against the crowd. Friday also marked the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the start of the Jewish Passover.
Hundreds of Israeli soldiers guarded the procession route. Israel has been on heightened alert because of threats of suicide attacks by the Islamic militant group Hamas.