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Overall, Christians in the Middle East have been uneasy as the Arab Spring has led to the strengthening of Islamist groups in most countries that have experienced uprisings. Thousands of Christians have fled the region — a phenomenon that the Vatican has lamented, given Christianity’s roots in the Holy Land.

“How sad it is to see this blessed land suffer in its children, who relentlessly tear one another to pieces and die!” said one of the Good Friday meditations. “It seems that nothing can overcome evil, terrorism, murder and hatred.”

Francis picked up on that message, saying Christ’s death on the cross is “the answer which Christians offer in the face of evil, the evil that continues to work in us and around us.”

Christians must respond to evil with good, taking the cross upon themselves as Jesus did,” he said.

At the end of the ceremony, a male choir sang a haunting Arabic hymn, a reflection of the Eastern rite influence that infused the ceremony.

On Saturday, Francis presides over the solemn Easter Vigil ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica and on Sunday, he celebrates Easter Mass and delivers an important speech. Usually the pope also issues Easter greetings in dozens of languages.

In his two weeks as pope, Francis’ discomfort with speaking in any language other than Italian has become apparent. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Friday “we’ll have to see” what Francis does with the multilingual greetings.

The Good Friday procession was conducted entirely in Italian, whereas in years past the core elements recounting what happens at each station would be recited in a variety of languages.