VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis, wearing a plain, long white coat, is presiding over the traditional Way of the Cross procession at Rome's Colosseum to mark Good Friday.
Thousands of faithful patiently endured exceptionally heavy security as they flocked to the ancient arena near the Roman Forum.
Anti-terrorism measures have been heightened for large public crowds after several vehicle attacks in Nice, Berlin and other European cities.
Nuns, tourists and Romans clutched candles in the warm night. Some parents hoisted children on their shoulders so they could watch, while Francis listened to meditations read aloud about how Jesus suffered before he was crucified.
Pope Francis prostrated himself in prayer during a solemn Good Friday service in St. Peter's Basilica to recall the crucifixion of Jesus. His quiet reflection came hours before he was due at the Colosseum for the Way of the Cross procession that is being held this year under exceptionally tight security.
The 80-year-old pope lay for several minutes before the central altar at the basilica. He wore crimson-colored vestments for the day commemorating the suffering of Jesus.
Papal preacher the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa told the faithful they were recalling the "violent death" of Jesus 2,000 years ago, even though most days now bring news if violent deaths, because the crucifixion "changed forever the very face of death."
Cantalamessa called the cross the definitive "'No' of God to violence, injustice, hate, lies."
Francis was scheduled to give his own homily Friday night at the traditional Way of the Cross procession in the Colosseum in Rome. Hours before the procession was scheduled to start, security was exceedingly tight around the ancient arena.
It's the first time the Good Friday tradition, in which faithful take turns carrying a cross while accompanied by pilgrims holding lit candles, was being held since the truck attacks targeting pedestrians in Nice, Berlin, London and Stockholm raised apprehension about big public gatherings in Europe.
Streets surrounding the Colosseum were closed to traffic, armored vehicles blocked intersections, bomb-sniffing dogs were out in force and there was a heavier-than-usual police presence to keep watch.
Accredited media faced exhaustive security checks. Police initially refused to allow ladders and tripods into the press zone. The equipment was eventually permitted after media protested to authorities.