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Good Friday Celebrated Carefully

A Christian pilgrim gets her cameras ready as she waits in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the arrival of the Good Friday procession during which worshippers carry a cross along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City as they retrace Jesus Christ's steps toward his crucifixion, Friday April 18, 2003.(AP Photo/Enric Marti)
AP
A thinned flock of Christian pilgrims singing hymns and carrying wooden crosses walked along the cobblestone alleys of Jerusalem's walled Old City, retracing Jesus' steps toward crucifixion in a Good Friday procession.

Only several hundred people participated in this year's ceremony. CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger reports the war in Iraq, as well as months of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, kept many pilgrims away.

Also, many Palestinian Christians were barred from reaching Jerusalem due to Israeli military travel restrictions.

"This is nothing like it used to be when thousands used to come from all over the world," said Father Simon, a Franciscan monk. "But I am always happy to see people recognize the sacrifice of Christ and his pain."

A few determined foreign visitors could be seen as the groups wound their way up the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows, Jesus' traditional route toward crucifixion, stopping at each of the 14 stations of the cross. Heavily armed Israeli soldiers were watching.

"Today is the most important day, it was the last day of Christ," said an Italian woman identifying herself as Mauritzia from Milan. "We came and we see we are safe and protected."

Mauritzia said it was her seventh pilgrimage but in previous years she came with much larger groups. This year, only 10 people were with her.

Tony Abyath, a 35-year-old Palestinian from Jerusalem, said, "The Lord speaks of peace but there is no peace today. So it remains as a remembrance. As long as there is no peace we can't celebrate, only remember, the death of Christ."

At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II heard confessions from 10 Catholics on Good Friday in St. Peter's Basilica, keeping tradition in a Holy Week tinged by his concern for victims of the war in Iraq.

The frail, 82-year-old pontiff was wheeled into the basilica while sitting on a trolley, and his aides helped him into a mahogany confessional booth near the main altar. He sat for an hour, listening to the confessions of four men and six women of six nationalities.

As he left, he turned to a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside the booth and wished them "a happy Easter" in Italian.

At least 13 Filipino devotees were nailed to wooden crosses north of Manila in an annual Good Friday reenactment of Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

The Lenten ritual is opposed by religious leaders in the Philippines — Southeast Asia's largest predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

The Catholic devotees, including at least three women, had their palms and feet nailed to the cross as a form of penance for sins, to pray for a sick relative or to fulfill a vow.

Israel has closed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, citing fears of terror attacks over the Jewish Passover holiday that began Wednesday and continues for a week. The travel ban prevented many Palestinian Christians from reaching Jerusalem.

Setting out from the Lion's Gate of the Old City, small groups of Italian, German, Swedish, Filipino, Bolivian and English pilgrims made their way along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried.

A group carried a large wooden cross up the path.

The fourteen stations mark the events of Jesus' last journey, beginning in a courtyard where the Bible says he was condemned to die. Services at the Holy Sepulcher on Easter Sunday commemorate the resurrection.