Pope lies face down on floor for the Passion of Christ

Vatican City, Mar 29 (EFE).- Pope Francis presided at St. Peter's Basilica over the Passion of Christ, the first of his pontificate. He had begun the service lying face down on the floor to pray for several minutes.

Thousands of people, including the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy Seat, attended the Good Friday service, the only day of the year when Mass is not said.

A cross covered with red cloth was placed on the main altar of the basilica for the solemn ceremony.

After the reading of the Passion of Christ, the preacher to the papal household, Raniero Cantalamessa, delivered a homily that stressed how church bureaucracy and controversies can hinder the gospels from reaching the people.

"It happens as with some ancient buildings. Down through the centuries, to adapt them to the necessities of the moment, they become filled with dividing walls, stairways, rooms and little cubicles. There comes a time when you realize that all these modifications no longer suit the needs of the present time but have rather become obstacles - that's when we must have the courage to knock them down and return the building to the simplicity of its origins," he said.

"That was the mission received one day by a man who was praying before the crucifix of St. Damian. 'Go, Francis, and repair my church,'" Cantalamessa said.

He was referring to the day St. Francis was praying in the church of St. Damian in Assisi, which was in ruins, and the figure of Christ appeared before him and asked him to repair it.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose the papal name of Francis in honor of the saint of Assisi, "the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation," the papal preacher said.