The selection of subjects reflected the pope's resolve to focus the Catholic church's attention on those who suffer, often on the margins of society. The motif of the marginalized also mirrored much of Francis' outreach in his first year of his papacy. His first pilgrimage outside of Rome as pope took him to a tiny island near Sicily where thousands of migrants arrive on smugglers' rickety boats.
Francis wore a white overcoat over a plain white cassock against the chill of the night.
Near the end of the 90-minute service, Francis told the crowd in brief remarks that the cross represented the "weight of all our sins." He decried the "monstrosity of man when he lets himself be guided by evil."
But he sounded a note of optimism. "Evil won't have the last word, but love, mercy and pardon" will, Francis said.
He ended with a prayer that all those "abandoned under the weight of the cross would find the strength of hope." Then he blessed the faithful and headed back to the Vatican by car.
Another of the meditations spoke of children whose health might be endangered by Italian mobsters' dumping of toxic wastes in their neighborhoods and farmland near Naples. Mothers of the children had written to the pope in hopes of drawing attention to the problem.
Outside the Colosseum and along the broad boulevard approaching it, tens of thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Romans stood elbow-to-elbow. They clutched prayer books and candles, in holders fashioned from brightly colored paper.
Many of them and tens of thousands more are expected to crowd into St. Peter's Square on Sunday for Easter Mass celebrated by Francis at the Vatican.
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