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"We wish to leave our mark on the Church even as we are young; Holy Father, what must we do?": Maltese youth

Jenna Murphy

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A "very intense" meeting with eight Maltese victims of sex abuse led one victim to say that he had "made his peace with the Church" and reported that the meeting left the Holy FatherPOPE-MALTA/ with "tears in his eyes" . This highly-anticipated meeting which took place at the nunciature in Rabat, Malta, today, had not been formally included in the Pope's schedule but reports from those in attendance attest to the fruitfulness of the meeting.
The following is an excerpt from the press release which was posted on the Vatican website following the meeting with the Maltese sex abuse victims:
"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."
Because of the nature of his meetings at the nunciature, the Holy Father arrived at the Valletta waterfront via catamaran about 30 minutes behind his initially scheduled arrival time. The Holy Father, whose boat was accompanied by hundreds of private vessels (open invitation to all Maltese boaters), was visibly moved by the address given by His Lordship Mario Grech, the bishop of Gozo.
Good Teacher, Your Holiness, notwithstanding all this, our young people are full of life and are keen to hear from you a word of encouragement to help them live with dignity. Unfortunately, sometimes they place their confidence in other teachers because they think that these can offer them a better way of life, but they are invariably betrayed.
In spite of those who militate to eradicate our trust in you, we are convinced that Your Holiness has the words of eternal life because you bring us face to face with the incarnated Word; with Jesus Christ who is eager to cast his loving gaze on us all. As you yourself rightly state in your first encyclical, being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty ideal, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. (Deus caritas est, n.1).
The bishop's address was followed by a time of prayer with the Holy Father and then several young people were given the opportunity to address the Pontiff with their questions and testimonies. These testimonies each touched on different struggles facing the youth in Malta. Below is the transcript, in part, from one particularly striking testimony that came from a Maltese seminarian:
Many times when we try to integrate ourselves in other areas outside the church, we are not taken seriously. It is our desire to grow closer to those people who have distanced themselves from God, yet how are we to touch those hearts which are cold and suspicious? Maybe by the standards of the collective consciousness of our culture, the Church seems to be a restraining force, a force that goes against the grain in life. And the priest often seems to be a personification of this negative force. We must admit that the Church has passed through phases and episodes that are not easy to explain or justify once seen through the eyes of the eyes of today’s open minded mentality. Today we also hear of priests who fail other persons. But it seems almost as if this admission of our shortcomings is not worth anything, and we are still held at arm’s length by some people.
We do not feel that it is just that we are held responsible for the mistakes made by a few others – that we too are measured by the same yardstick – especially since we are trying to live out the implications of our vocation ion a faithful manner. Yet at the same time we are aware that this forms part of our calling. With trepidation, we beg God for forgiveness of our sins and to save us from danger because we realize that to a great extent, although we may have to face difficult situations, we do not wish to endanger others.
Yet we need to take the necessary steps forward even though we may not always be convinced about our wider role as pastors. Why should we continue to follow the sheep who seeks another flock? Why should we leave the flock where we are made welcome? We desire to be sustained in our mission as priests because our Church should be prepared to make everybody welcome, to find a place for everyone who needs it. We believe that in the name of Jesus Christ, we should invite new people to discover God, to look after the hearts of all persons, not only Catholics. Yet to do this we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the Shepherd who leaves his flock, to go after one single heart. We wish you integrate ourselves into a society who does not reserve a place for us. Your Holiness, what must we do?
The following is the complete text of Pope Benedict's corresponding address to the young people of Malta:
Meeting with Young People, Valletta Waterfront Address of the Holy Father
18 April 2010
What a joy it is for me to be with you today on your native soil! On this significant anniversary, we thank God for sending the Apostle Paul to these islands, which were thus among the first to receive the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
I warmly greet Archbishop Cremona, as well as Bishop Grech whom I thank for his kind words, and all the bishops, priests and religious who are here. Most especially, I greet you, young people of Malta and Gozo, and I thank you for speaking to me of the matters that concern you most deeply. I appreciate your desire to seek and find the truth, and to know what you must do to attain the fullness of life.
Saint Paul, as a young man, had an experience that changed him for ever. 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. Here in Malta, you have particular reason to give thanks for Paul’s missionary labours, which spread the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean.
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.
I have spoken already of the need to care for the very young, and for the elderly and infirm. Yet a Christian is called to bring the healing message of the Gospel to everyone. God loves every single person in this world, indeed he loves everyone who has ever lived throughout the history of the world. In the death and Resurrection of Jesus, which is made present whenever we celebrate the Mass, he offers life in abundance to all those people. As Christians we are called to manifest God’s all-inclusive love. So we should seek out the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized; we should have a special care for those who are in distress, those suffering from depression or anxiety; we should care for the disabled, and do all we can to promote their dignity and quality of life; we should be attentive to the needs of immigrants and asylum seekers in our midst; we should extend the hand of friendship to members of all faiths and none. That is the noble vocation of love and service that we have all received. Let it inspire you to dedicate your lives to following Christ. La tib?g?ux tkunu ?bieb intimi ta’ Kristu.
Dear young people, as I take my leave of you, I want you to know that I am close to you and I remember you and your families and friends in my prayers.
For more coverage and commentary from on the ground in Malta visit the Catholic News Service Blog.

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