Pope Francis presided over solemn Good Friday services amid heightened security at Rome’s Colosseum for the Via Crucis procession and a new communications controversy at home.
The Pontiff was forced to deny reports that he told a well-known Italian journalist that ‘there is no hell’.
The Vatican insisted that no quotations attributed to the Pope in an article in Italy’s La Repubblica ‘should be considered as a faithful transcription’ of his words.
Pope Francis lies down in prayer during the Good Friday Passion of Christ Mass, inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican on Friday
Pope Francis leads the Good Friday Passion of the Lord Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, March 30, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Priests help Pope Francis during the Good Friday Passion of the Lord Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican
At the start of the most solemn period of the Catholic Church calendar, Francis lay prostrate in front of the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica before the chant-filled Good Friday evening service got underway
Italian police, carabinieri and soldiers were on alert throughout Good Friday, with Holy Week, arresting several suspected Islamic extremists around Italy amid warnings from law enforcement about the return of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria.
At the start of the most solemn period of the Catholic Church calendar, Francis lay prostrate in front of the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica before the chant-filled Good Friday evening service got underway.
Later he travelled to the Colosseum to preside over the Way of the Cross procession re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion – the seminal event in Christianity leading to Christ’s resurrection celebrated on Easter Sunday.
The solemn commemorations coincide with a new communications controversy in the Vatican over the pope’s reported assertion – at the height of Holy Week – that hell does not exist.
Pope Francis lies on the floor during the Good Friday Passion of the Lord Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Friday
Pope Francis enters the Christian Holy Week with a row simmering over whether or not he had denied the existence of hell
The sky is falling: Parts of the ceiling in the St. Peter’s Basilica fell in on Thursday
Denial: Hours before the incident in the Basilica, Pope Francis had to deny that he had told Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari (right) that hell did not exist
The Vatican has not denied Francis’ comments to the La Repubblica newspaper, saying only the journalist reconstructed a conversation.
It was the fifth time in five years Francis has spoken to Repubblica’s founder, Eugenio Scalfari, a devout atheist who admits he does not record or take notes during interviews.
Nearly every time a Francis interview has appeared on Repubblica’s front page, the Vatican press office has insisted the pope’s words were not necessarily accurate, without denying them outright.
That has prompted questions about why the pope continually lets himself be quoted by Scalfari.
Spokesman Greg Burke did not respond when asked whether the Pope believes in the existence of hell or not.
Francis has in the past spoke frequently about the devil and hell.
The doubts, however, have enraged Catholic conservatives, who have lost their patience with a pope who seems to care less about doctrine than dialogue, especially with atheists and people of other faiths.
Earlier on Friday the Vatican has had to seal off part of St. Peter’s Basilica after chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling.
Although bits of the ceiling rained down over worshippers near Michelangelo’s famed Pieta statue to the right of the main entrance, no-one was injured.
A Vatican spokesman said the basilica remains open with the affected areas sealed off until later on Friday.