Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Do not be afraid : the exhortation that John Paul II addressed to the world at the beginning of his pontificate, back in 1978, returned yesterday in the words of Benedict XVI. Then the call was addressed to the peoples of the world, the anguished confrontation between East and West, now to those who "bring the Gospel message to the world", where there is a strong culture that promotes ideas and values that sometimes conflict with those lived and preached by our Lord Jesus Christ" and "Gospel values are once again becoming a counter-culture ", often exacerbated "by the media and social pressure groups hostile to the Christian faith".
The very one who have been trying for quite some time to implicate the Pope himself in the issue of paedophile priests and who have struggled to conceal their disappointment at the outcome of yesterday’s encounter between Benedict XVI and eight victims of violence, one of prayer, of the Pope’s pain, and the declared "satisfaction" of the participants.
This time “do not be afraid” was launched from Malta, the destination of a two day papal visit. A symbolic place, linked to the shipwreck of St. Paul on his journey to Rome where he suffered martyrdom, and a secular Christian bulwark against the Muslim assault on Europe.
The primary audience of the papal message were the 15 thousand young people who crowded the Maltese Grand Harbour of Valletta. A meeting that saw the questions of young people who represent different ways of being the relationship between faith and the Church. Those who feel on the ‘margins’ of society, those preparing for marriage, those who feel they want to answer the call to the priesthood.
Of particular importance in this context, the words of the young man who represented those on the “margins of the Church”, because of the vicissitudes of broken families, abuse, different sexual orientations. All of them, including some immigrants, "have had experiences that have distanced them from the Church." "We - he said - feel that not even the Church itself recognizes our value," "it considers us to be a problem” and that "we are less readily accepted and treated with dignity by the Christian community than we are by all other members of society."
"God rejects no-one. And the Church rejects no-one", was the response of Benedict XVI. And, if even St Paul "has often been harsh in his writings," it is because "in his great love, God challenges each of us to change and become more perfect." Hence the "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. ...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. "
Before, during Mass, the Pope had somehow touched the same issue. "Many voices - he said - try to persuade us to put aside our faith in God and his Church, and to choose for ourselves the values and beliefs by which to live. They tell us we have no need of God or the Church." And "It is tempting to think that today’s advanced technology can answer all our needs and save us from all the perils and dangers that beset us. But it is not so. At every moment of our lives we depend entirely on God, in whom we live and move and have our being. Only he can protect us from harm, only he can guide us through the storms of life, only he can bring us to a safe haven, as he did for Paul and his companions adrift off the coast of Malta".
Very significant, finally, the expected, though not officially announced, meeting that after the Mass, Benedict XVI held with eight people, all men between 30 and 40, past victims of sexual abuse by priests. During the meeting, which followed the format of similar ones that occurred on other occasions, but which have been "forgotten" in the recent controversy, a statement of the Vatican press office describes the Pope as having been, "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 - the statement concludes - he prayed that all victims of abuse may experience healing and reconciliation, enabling them to move forward with renewed hope. "In words of the spokesman of the victims of abuse, Lawrence Grech, who for years sought justice and an apology from the Church, the meeting was very moving. Benedict XVI, he said, "placed his hands on the head of each of the participants, to bless them. I was relieved and freed from a great weight". "I had not been to Mass in a long time and I had lost faith, but now I am a convinced Catholic."