Pope Francis leads Good Friday Mass

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Vatican City: Pope Francis presided over solemn Good Friday services amid heightened security at Rome’s Colosseum for the Via Crucis procession and a new communications controversy at home.

The Pontiff was forced to deny reports that he told a well-known Italian journalist that ‘there is no hell’.

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The Vatican insisted that no quotations attributed to the Pope in an article in Italy’s La Repubblica ‘should be considered as a faithful transcription’ of his words.

Italian police, carabinieri and soldiers were on alert throughout Good Friday, with Holy Week, arresting several suspected Islamic extremists around Italy amid warnings from law enforcement about the return of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria.

At the start of the most solemn period of the Catholic Church calendar, Francis lay prostrate in front of the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica before the chant-filled Good Friday evening service got underway.

Later he travelled to the Colosseum to preside over the Way of the Cross procession re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion – the seminal event in Christianity leading to Christ’s resurrection celebrated on Easter Sunday.

The solemn commemorations coincide with a new communications controversy in the Vatican over the pope’s reported assertion – at the height of Holy Week – that hell does not exist.

The Vatican has not denied Francis’ comments to the La Repubblica newspaper, saying only the journalist reconstructed a conversation.It was the fifth time in five years Francis has spoken to Repubblica’s founder, Eugenio Scalfari, a devout atheist who admits he does not record or take notes during interviews.

Nearly every time a Francis interview has appeared on Repubblica’s front page, the Vatican press office has insisted the pope’s words were not necessarily accurate, without denying them outright.

That has prompted questions about why the pope continually lets himself be quoted by Scalfari. Spokesman Greg Burke did not respond when asked whether the Pope believes in the existence of hell or not. Francis has in the past spoke frequently about the devil and hell.

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