Benedict XVI in Malta. The Shore That Saves from Shipwreck
The pope’s weeping with victims of sexual abuse. “God rejects no one. And the Church rejects no one. Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and to become more perfect”
by Sandro Magister
ROME, April 19, 2010 – Benedict XVI was away from the media when the strongest symbolic action of his trip to Malta took place. It was his weeping with eight victims of sexual abuse committed by priests, abuse committed against them when they were very young.
The pope met with them behind closed doors, in the nunciature, shortly after the Mass on Sunday, April 18. It was one of the eight, Lawrence Grech, 35, who talked about the pope weeping. And about his own emotion and the rekindling of his faith.
The official Vatican statement described the encounter like this:
“He was deeply moved by their stories and expressed his shame and sorrow over what victims and their families have suffered. He prayed with them and assured them that the Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future. In the spirit of his recent Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, he prayed that all the victims of abuse would experience healing and reconciliation, enabling them to move forward with renewed hope.”
In effect, pope Joseph Ratzinger made the trip to Malta under intense pressure from the international media, which demanded actions and words concerning the scandal of pedophilia.
And he did not resist. But he did it in his own distinctive style.
He never talked explicitly, in public, about the question of pedophilia. Instead, he listened to what others said to him about it: the bishop of Valletta, at the beginning of the Mass, and, in the afternoon, a young homosexual, during an encounter with young people on the wharf of the port. This latter declaration, in particular, was a biting and detailed J’accuse against the faults of the Church.
On at least two occasions, however, Pope Benedict expressed in public his view of the crisis that has struck the Church with the scandal of pedophilia.
The first time was on Saturday afternoon, when he spoke briefly to the journalists on the plane to Malta.
To explain the reasons for his trip, Benedict XVI recalled the shipwreck that landed Saint Paul in Malta in the year 60:
“I think that the reason for the shipwreck speaks to us. From the shipwreck, for Malta was born the fortune of having the faith; so we too can think that the shipwrecks of life can effect God’s plan for us, and can also be useful for new beginnings in our life.”
And shortly afterward, he added:
“I know that Malta loves Christ and loves his Church, which is his Body, and knows that, even if this Body is wounded by our sins, the Lord loves this Church nonetheless, and his Gospel is the true force that purifies and heals.”
The second time was Sunday afternoon, with the speech to the young people on the wharf of the port of Valletta.
In this speech, the pope said:
“Saint Paul, as a young man, had an experience that changed him forever. As you know, he was once an enemy of the Church, and did all he could to destroy it. While he was travelling to Damascus, intending to hunt down any Christians he could find there, the Lord appeared to him in a vision. A blinding light shone around him and he heard a voice saying, ‘Why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9:4-5). Paul was completely overcome by this encounter with the Lord, and his whole life was transformed. He became a disciple, and went on to be a great apostle and missionary. […]
“Every personal encounter with Jesus is an overwhelming experience of love. Previously, as Paul himself admits, he had ‘persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it’ (Gal 1:13). But the hatred and anger expressed in those words was completely swept away by the power of Christ’s love. For the rest of his life, Paul had a burning desire to carry the news of that love to the ends of the earth.
“Maybe some of you will say to me, Saint Paul is often severe in his writings. How can I say that he was spreading a message of love? My answer is this. God loves every one of us with a depth and intensity that we can hardly begin to imagine. And he knows us intimately, he knows all our strengths and all our faults. Because he loves us so much, he wants to purify us of our faults and build up our virtues so that we can have life in abundance. When he challenges us because something in our lives is displeasing to him, he is not rejecting us, but he is asking us to change and become more perfect. That is what he asked of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. God rejects no one. And the Church rejects no one. Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and to become more perfect.
“Saint John tells us that perfect love casts out fear (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). And so I say to all of you, ‘Do not be afraid!’ How many times we hear those words in the Scriptures! They are addressed by the angel to Mary at the Annunciation, by Jesus to Peter when calling him to be a disciple, and by the angel to Paul on the eve of his shipwreck. To all of you who wish to follow Christ, as married couples, as parents, as priests, as religious, as lay faithful bringing the message of the Gospel to the world, I say, do not be afraid! You may well encounter opposition to the Gospel message. Today’s culture, like every culture, promotes ideas and values that are sometimes at variance with those lived and preached by our Lord Jesus Christ. Often they are presented with great persuasive power, reinforced by the media and by social pressure from groups hostile to the Christian faith. It is easy, when we are young and impressionable, to be swayed by our peers to accept ideas and values that we know are not what the Lord truly wants for us. That is why I say to you: do not be afraid, but rejoice in his love for you; trust him, answer his call to discipleship, and find nourishment and spiritual healing in the sacraments of the Church.
“Here in Malta, you live in a society that is steeped in Christian faith and values. You should be proud that your country both defends the unborn and promotes stable family life by saying no to abortion and divorce. I urge you to maintain this courageous witness to the sanctity of life and the centrality of marriage and family life for a healthy society. In Malta and Gozo, families know how to value and care for their elderly and infirm members, and they welcome children as gifts from God. Other nations can learn from your Christian example. In the context of European society, Gospel values are once again becoming counter-cultural, just as they were at the time of Saint Paul.
“In this Year for Priests, I ask you to be open to the possibility that the Lord may be calling some of you to give yourselves totally to the service of his people in the priesthood or the consecrated life. Your country has given many fine priests and religious to the Church. Be inspired by their example, and recognize the profound joy that comes from dedicating one’s life to spreading the message of God’s love for all people, without exception.”
Shipwreck and wounds, hatred and the desire to destroy… But for Pope Benedict, everything truly is grace and the promise of healing, “even the world’s attacks on our sins.”
They can be the hand of God, who “desires to purify us of our errors and strengthen our virtues, so that we may have life in abundance.”
The program and all the speeches of Benedict XVI’s trip:
> Apostolic voyage to Malta, April 17-18, 2010
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.