Pope Benedict XVI presided over the Good Friday nighttime Way of the Cross procession but did not carry the cross as planned during the tradition, which this year paid tribute to Catholics who are persecuted.
The pope wore a long white coat as he stood sheltered from the cold, pelting rain under a canopy erected on the Palatine Hill overlooking the Colosseum.
At the end of the procession, Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini handed Benedict the tall, slender, lightweight cross. The pope gripped it briefly. Then, in a strong voice, he blessed the crowd of thousands being drenched by the rain and buffeted by gusty winds and told them: "Thank you for being patient under the rain. Happy Easter to you."
The pope was supposed to carry the cross for the final minutes of the more-than-hourlong procession, taking his turn after a young woman and a young priest from China walked with the symbol of Jesus' crucifixion. But Vatican officials said that because of the storm, it was decided that the pope, who turns 81 next month and has two more days of strenuous ceremonies in the period ahead to mark Easter, should stay dry under the canopy.