SYDNEY, Australia - A recreation of the crucifixion and last days of Jesus played out against the backdrop of some of the city's most famous landmarks Friday, as an actor playing Christ was strung upside down, dragged through the streets and eventually "nailed" to a cross.
Pope Benedict XVI, in Sydney for the Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Day festival, offered a prayer before the grim three-hour performance, known as the stations of the cross. The pope attended the first act, a live recreation of The Last Supper, at St. Mary's Cathedral in downtown Sydney.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims lined the city's streets, many weeping openly along with Alfio Stuto, a 27-year-old advertising professional from Sydney who took on the role of Jesus.
Crowds of faithful jammed the steps of the Opera House and watched as the nearly naked actor was strung up by his feet, his body swaying slightly in the chilly wind. Stuto's face contorted in mock agony as men portraying Roman soldiers jammed a crown of thorns onto his head before forcing him to shoulder a giant wooden cross. Stuto then boarded a boat and sailed under the landmark Sydney Harbor Bridge to a waterfront site where he spoke to actors portraying the women of Jerusalem.
Pilgrims watched the crucifixion scene solemnly as darkness fell, some clutching each other for comfort and wiping away tears. As Stuto's limp, bloodied body was brought down from the cross and taken away, they broke into applause.
The reenactment had a uniquely Australian tone, with an Aboriginal man wearing a kangaroo skin and body paint taking the cross from Stuto to the strains of the didgeridoo.
Organizers said they expected 500 million people across the world to watch the television broadcast of the performance, which featured 100 actors.
Despite the dark subject matter, 19-year-old Alice Neville of Nottingham, England, said seeing the suffering Christ endured played out so dramatically was deeply moving.
"It's totally different to being in church," Neville said as she watched the crucifixion. "It's ... goosebumpy."