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Pope Francis leads Good Friday services

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 0122 GMT (0922 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pope Francis leads the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome
  • Earlier, he celebrated Good Friday Mass at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
  • Good Friday, which recalls the day Jesus died on the cross, is a solemn day for believers

(CNN) -- Thousands of Christians gathered at one of Rome's most famous landmarks Friday night as Pope Francis led the Catholic ceremony known as the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum. Crowds of the faithful stood in solemn attendance, holding candles that cast a soft yellow glow over the ancient Roman site, as a giant cross made of dozens of flickering candles towered over the audience.

The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross, commemorates the passion and death of Jesus.

Earlier, the Pope led a service at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, also to mark Good Friday, the most solemn day of the Christian calendar.

Roman Catholics worldwide use the day to reflect on the Gospel account of the day Jesus died on the cross, before his resurrection from the dead three days later on Easter Sunday, according to Christian doctrine.

Women in traditional costumes are sprayed with water by men as members of the Marghareta Dance Group perform Easter folk traditions of the region in the Museum Village in Nyiregyhaza, northeast of Budapest, Hungary, on Monday, April 21. Click through the gallery to see how Christians around the world are observing Holy Week, which marks the last week of Lent and the beginning of Easter celebrations. Women in traditional costumes are sprayed with water by men as members of the Marghareta Dance Group perform Easter folk traditions of the region in the Museum Village in Nyiregyhaza, northeast of Budapest, Hungary, on Monday, April 21. Click through the gallery to see how Christians around the world are observing Holy Week, which marks the last week of Lent and the beginning of Easter celebrations.
Holy Week around the world
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Photos: Holy Week around the world Photos: Holy Week around the world
Pope condemns clergy who sexually abused

Holy Week, one of the most significant periods of the Roman Catholic year, will culminate on Easter Sunday with a Mass in St. Peter's Square, led by Pope Francis.

On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis visited a home for the elderly and disabled, the Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, to wash the feet of "12 disabled people of different ages, ethnicities and religious confessions," during a special Lord's Supper Mass, according to the Vatican.

It was the second time he has broken with Vatican tradition and washed the feet of ordinary people rather than priests.

Last year, he washed the feet of two women and two Muslims at a juvenile detention center in Rome. Before this, modern popes only washed the feet of 12 priests at the Vatican, during the Mass of the Last Supper.

At his general audience Wednesday, Francis urged the faithful to seek an example in Jesus.

"This week, as we follow Jesus along the way of the cross, may we imitate his loving obedience to the will of the father, especially in times of difficulty and humiliation, and open our hearts to his gifts of reconciliation, redemption and new life," he said.

READ: Pope Francis washes the feet of disabled people as part of Easter celebrations

READ: How to really measure the 'Francis effect'

CNN's Shelby Lin Erdman and Delia Gallagher contributed to this report.

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