ROME, MARCH 26, 2005 ( John Paul II offered his own "Via Crucis" through television link to the Stations of the Cross in the Colosseum on Good Friday night.

The thousands who followed the ceremony in at the ancient imperial landmark were able to see the Pope on large screens, seated in his private chapel. During the last station, he held a crucifix in his hands.

"I also offer my sufferings so that God's plan will be realized and his word spread among peoples," said the Holy Father in a brief message addressed to those present, read on his behalf by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar for the Rome Diocese.

The cardinal, who is also president of the Italian bishops' conference, presided in the Pope's name and carried the cross in the first and last stations.

"I am also close to all those who, at this time, are being tried with suffering. I pray for each one of them," said the Pontiff in his message. It marked the first time he missed the ceremony in his 26-year pontificate.

In the images of the Holy Father, broadcast by the Vatican Television Center, he had his back to the camera as he faced the altar. Near the altar, a television transmitted images of the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum.

The meditations and prayers, written on this occasion by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, were focused on Christ's self-giving in the Eucharist.

In a petition to Christ, the cardinal said: "Help us grow in love and veneration for your Eucharistic mystery -- to make you, the Bread of heaven, the source of our life." The text was read in Italian in the Colosseum.

Some of the passages were examinations of conscience for the whole Church, as in the ninth station, with this question:

"Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words!

"How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion."

In the seventh station, commenting on Christianity, Cardinal Ratzinger said: "But we can also think, in more recent times, of how a Christianity which has grown weary of faith has abandoned the Lord: the great ideologies, and the banal existence of those who no longer believing in anything, who simply drift through life, have built a new and worse paganism, which in its attempt to do away with God once and for all, have ended up doing away with man. And so man lies fallen in the dust."

One understands, the cardinal said in the third station, how our "arrogance that makes us think that we ourselves can create human beings, has turned man into a kind of merchandise, to be bought and sold, or stored to provide parts for experimentation. In doing this, we hope to conquer death by our own efforts, yet in reality we are profoundly debasing human dignity."

The Stations of the Cross were broadcast by 54 television channels in 39 countries.