ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict took questions from a child in Japan, a Muslim woman in Ivory Coast and a mother caring for a son in a permanent coma in his first televised dialogue with the public, broadcast on Good Friday.
The German-born pontiff, like his Polish predecessor John Paul, has allowed rare televised interviews with journalists but his contact with the public marked a new step for the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
The interaction was shown on Italian television in mid afternoon at around the time Christ is believed to have died. Later the pope attended the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion and death.
Though heavily controlled by Vatican officials, the television broadcast, called “In His Image,” represented an attempt to freshen the image of the Church by the pope, who has lamented the decline of Christian faith in the Western world.
Following roughly the format of an Italian TV chat show, with a moderator and a panel of experts before a studio audience, it included pre-recorded responses from the 84-year old pope speaking via video link.
Sitting at his desk, the pope told the mother of a man who has been in a coma for a long time that her son’s soul was still in his body and that he could feel the presence of love.
“The situation, perhaps, is like that of a guitar whose strings have been broken and therefore can no longer play,” the pope told the Italian mother, who spoke beside her son.
To a seven year-old girl in Japan asking him to explain the suffering in her country after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami which killed 28,000 people, he pointed to Jesus and said suffering was not in vain.
“We do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do,” the pope said.
Responding to a request for advice from a Muslim woman in Ivory Coast, which is emerging from a conflict in which at least 1,500 people died and a million were forced to flee, the pope said people should look to Christ as an example of peace.
“Violence never comes from God, never helps bring anything good, but is a destructive means and not the path to escape difficulties,” he said.
He also told youth in Iraq that the Church was encouraging dialogue between religions.
Later on Friday he stood before tens of thousands of people holding candles and watched the solemn procession around the ancient ruins of the Colosseum.
The ceremony at the site associated with early Christian martyrs is one of the main services before Easter, the climax of the Christian year.
Wearing a red cape, the pontiff listened to meditations composed by Mother Maria Rita Piccione, an Augustinian nun who is one of few women to have been given the task for the 14 “stations of the cross.”
On Saturday, Benedict will say an Easter Eve mass and on Sunday will deliver an “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing and message.
Additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis