VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Pope John Paul II, still limping after hip surgery, asked for help carrying the cross in the Good Friday procession. A Protestant nun, a mother of three and a teen-age girl were among those called.

It was the first time the pope didn't carry the wooden cross himself over the entire half-mile circuit around the Colosseum. And it was the first time women were brought into the procession.

Around the globe, Christians observed the day in contemplation and prayer. In the Philippines, a dozen penitents had themselves nailed to crosses in sympathy with Christ's anguish. In Mexico, an accounting student dragged a heavy wooden cross up a hill in a traditional Good Friday reenactment.

The pope, who has relied on a cane since last year's hip replacement surgery, carried the light wooden cross on only three of the 14 stations of the cross, which recall Christ's suffering before his crucifixion.

The pope began the ceremony by remembering the victims of recent civil wars and those who perished in concentration camps and atomic blasts during World War II.

The pope, wearing a red cape over white vestments, limped heavily as he carried the 5-foot cross for the first two stations around the Colosseum. After handing it to a Swiss Lutheran nun, he used a cane and was helped down stairs during the hour-long procession.

The pope again held the cross for the final station. ``The Colosseum stands here as testimony to the martyrs of faith,'' he said after the procession.

Tens of thousands of worshipers shielded prayer books and burning candles from the steady rain.

Women have never before taken a direct role in the procession, although nuns have previously written the text read at each of the 14 stations.

A Russian Orthodox priest from Moscow also was one of the cross bearers as part of Vatican efforts to involve other denominations on Christianity's most solemn day.

John Paul broke his right leg in a fall nearly a year ago. He canceled a number of activities last year, including a trip to the United States, but resumed foreign travel and a full schedule this year.

In Jerusalem, one of the largest crowds of pilgrims in years retraced Christ's steps toward crucifixion through the ancient walled city. Some lugged heavy wooden crosses along the Via Dolorosa, or ``Way of Sorrow,'' to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

This year's large crowds contrasted with the trickle of tourists during the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising. Tourism has boomed since Palestinians and Israeli reached a peace accord in 1993.

In the Philippines, dozens of penitents beat themselves with bamboo whips or were nailed to wooden crosses in an annual ritual.

Men dressed as Roman centurions drove thin aluminum nails into the hands and feet of about a dozen people in sweltering San Pedro Cutid.

``I will do this as long as I can stand the physical rigors,'' said Fernando Macapagal.

In Iztapalapa, a town outside Mexico City, 18-year-old Gerardo Granados Juarez played Jesus in a traditional two-day reenactment that began with Jesus' last supper and ended with his crucifixion.

``It it not a theatrical play, nor is it a pagan feast. It is an act of worship by our village to God for having saved our great-grandparents from the ravages of the cholera,'' said organizer Jorge Avila Dominguez.

Large processions also took place across Spain, where most events are organized by lay groups. In Seville, more than 10,000 hooded worshipers followed a relic of Christ through the streets in a prelude to Good Friday ceremonies.

At the Vatican, the pope heard confessions from a dozen Roman Catholics picked from a crowd of thousands of pilgrims filling St. Peter's Basilica.

``Many others wanted to be heard, but it would have taken a week without sleeping,'' said John Paul, wearing a black cloak over his white robes.

Vatican officials picked five men and seven women from the crowd, escorting them to a mahogany confessional booth near the center of the vast basilica.

John Paul began the tradition of hearing Good Friday confessions in the first year of his papacy 16 years ago.