BY CINDY WOODEN IN ROME
ABOUT 120,000 people converged on St Peter’s Square to express support for Pope Benedict XVI in dealing with the clerical sexual abuse scandal.
Thanking the crowd for their presence and affection, Pope Benedict said: “The true enemy to fear is sin, the spiritual evil that unfortunately sometimes infects even members of the Church. We Christians are not afraid of the world, even if we have to be careful of its seductions. Rather, we must fear sin and, for that reason, be strongly rooted in God and solid in goodness, love and service.” With trust in the Lord and a renewed commitment to following him, he said, the Church can become holier by going through “the trials” it is facing.
The Italian National Consultation of Lay Groups, a Catholic organisation, spearheaded the effort to bring Catholics to show their support. A variety of Catholic organisations and movements, unions and political groups joined them, filling the square and spilling on to the adjacent streets.
Paola Dal Toso, secretary of the national consultation, told Vatican Radio that participants wanted to pray for the victims of sexual abuse, but also “to recall all the good that many priests do, which does not make the news”. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, led the crowd in prayer before the Pope arrived at his studio window to address the gathering. “Almighty and eternal God, comfort of the afflicted and support of the troubled, hear the cry of those who are in pain so that they would find justice and comfort,” he prayed.
He also prayed that the abuse victims would return to the life of a “purified” Church, so that they could “rediscover the infinite love of Christ”. In a rare exception, Vatican officials allowed the organisers to hang banners from the colonnade surrounding the square. Many proclaimed: “Together with the Pope.”