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Faith

Good Friday observances worldwide include a 'lesson' from Judas Iscariot

A possible lesson for believers from, of all people, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was one of the less-expected elements of global Christian observances of Good Friday, the day on which Christ was believed to have been crucified.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis presided at the "Celebration of the Passion of Our Lord" service, also known as the Good Friday service, in St. Peter's Basilica. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, delivered a homily on why Judas Iscariot's story of betrayal should move Christians to surrender to Jesus, Vatican Radio reported.

"One can betray Jesus for other kinds of compensation than 30 pieces of silver," Cantalamessa said. "A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ. The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus."

Earlier, the pontiff "celebrated Holy Thursday with patients from a network of centers for the elderly and disabled people," according to the Rome Reports news service. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, participants in the ritual "ranged in age from 16 to 86 and included four women and a 75-year-old Muslim man, Hamed, a Libyan businessman who suffered severe brain damage in a car accident. Francis delivered a short, simple sermon to the participants, some of whom were shaking in their wheel chairs. 'In our hearts at this moment, let each one of us think of the other ... and how we can each help each other,' he said."

Devotees in the northern Philippines city of San Pedro Cutud had themselves nailed to crosses in an annual reenactment of Jesus' crucifixion, despite discouragement from local Catholic authorities and medical experts, the Associated Press reported.

This year, at least one foreigner participated: "Lasse Spang Olsen, a 48-year-old filmmaker from Denmark, also had himself nailed to a cross, joining other Filipino devotees. He grimaced in pain as nails pierced his hands and feet. Olsen said he made a film two years ago about Enaje's yearly crucifixion and decided to have himself crucified after falling sick twice. He had a small camera attached to his cross while a colleague filmed his experience."

Other global celebrations were more traditional: In Jerusalem, the Associated Press reports, "Thousands of Christian pilgrims filled the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City on Friday along the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the 'Way of Suffering.' They carried wooden crosses and followed the 14 stations ending at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Tradition says the church was built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected."

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby "led residents and church-goers through the streets of Dover (England) during the annual Good Friday procession of Witness," kentonline.co.uk reported. Welby spent the week in and around Dover, visiting charities and meeting with teenage worshippers, and on Thursday, "he officiated the Maundy service, washing the feet of the congregation at Alkham Parish Church."

Along with his visits, Welby spoke to a larger audience in Britain via that country's Radio Times magazine, where the Anglican primate argued for more faith-based programming on television and radio: "At a time when some argue that faith and religious life should be kept behind closed doors, it is reassuring that broadcasters still invest in imaginative, high-quality religious programming, especially during Christian festivals such as Easter and Christmas," he wrote. "But I believe passionately that religious broadcasting is not just for Easter or Christmas: its presence is vital the whole year round."

Welby also said he enjoyed the humor displayed in the BBC comedy "Rev," which depicts the struggles and joys of an urban parish: "The show amusingly depicts some of the challenges facing clergy up and down the country. But while it’s great entertainment, it doesn’t truly tell the whole story. I have a friend who runs a growing church in Reading city centre, filled with young people with no church background; I have another friend who has had to plant two new churches because his congregation is bursting at the seams," Welby noted.

And in places where Christianity is not dominant, cultures sometimes clash, as noted in a Sri Lanka Guardian story on "Why Is Good Friday, Good?"

According to the paper, "To Christians and non-Christians alike, Good Friday is a special day. On Good Friday, Christians commemorate the suffering, passion and death by crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, to some non-believers, it means a 'spiritual' retreat to the coast, with cars clogging roads, towing caravans with tailbacks for a nice long weekend, to others it is a day to see local football with the entire family, and to still others, it signals the end of the Lent(en) fasting season and the await of Easter Sunday."

The Herald-Sun newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, took to its editorial page to suggest Easter is more than a long weekend holiday: "Churches and spirituality remain an important part of modern society and the message to be gained from Easter is as relevant today as Good Friday," the paper wrote. "It is relevant whether people are devout, agnostic or atheist. Rebirth, renewal, reunion and forgiveness. Whatever religion means, or doesn’t mean to the individual, we can all benefit from those reflections."

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com Twitter: @Mark_Kellner