VATICAN CITY, Reuters
Pope John Paul started a hectic Easter weekend program on Thursday asking churchmen to renew their vows and blessing oil used to baptize babies and anoint the dying over the next year.
The Pope, dressed in cream and gold robes, blessed three huge silver jars of oil which he said “marks every Christian’s life from the day of their baptism”.
Later on Thursday, the Pope is to celebrate vespers at the Basilica of St. John in Lateran where he traditionally washes and kisses the feet of 12 men in a gesture recalling Christ’s humility toward his apostles the night before he died.
Holy Week, which began last Sunday on Palm Sunday, is one of the most grueling periods for the Pope, who turns 81 next month.
On Good Friday, commemorating the death of Jesus, the Pope will preside over the most colorful ceremony of the week, the “Via Crucis” (“Way of the Cross”) around Rome’s ancient Colosseum, where Christians were once slaughtered.
But for the first time in his 22-year papacy, the Polish Pontiff will not walk around the Colosseum but watch the ceremony kneeling in a concession to age and ailment.
On Saturday night, the Pope is due to preside at an Easter Vigil mass at the Vatican.
Holy Week ends on Easter Sunday when the Pope says mass and delivers his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”)lessing and message and reads Easter greetings in some 60 languages.