Arriving in Lisbon on Wednesday to take part in World Youth Day, the pope met victims of sexual violence committed by members of the Portuguese clergy, six months after the publication of a damning report for the Church in the Iberian country.
“Pope Francis received at the nunciature a group of 13 people, victims of abuse by members of the clergy,” the Vatican announced in the evening.
"The meeting was held in an atmosphere of intense listening and lasted more than an hour," said the Holy See in a brief statement.
A little earlier, on the first day of a five-day trip to Portugal, the sovereign pontiff had mentioned to his ecclesiastical hierarchy "the disappointment and anger that some feel towards the Church, sometimes because of our bad testimony and the scandals which have disfigured its face".
According to him, these scandals "call for a humble and constant purification, starting from the cry of pain of the victims, always to welcome and listen".
In a report submitted in February, a commission of independent experts mandated by the Portuguese bishops had established that at least 4.815 minors had been victims of sexual violence in a religious context since 1950, acts concealed by the Catholic hierarchy in a "systemic" way. ".
"This meeting of the Holy Father represents the confirmation of the path of reconciliation that the Church in Portugal is following on this subject", reacted Wednesday the Episcopal Conference of this country where 80% of the 10 million inhabitants define as Catholic.
"Building bridges" for peace in Ukraine
In a first speech to political leaders and diplomats stationed in Portugal, the pope called on Europe to "build bridges" for peace in Ukraine.
"Looking with affection at Europe and the spirit of dialogue that characterizes it, one could ask him: where are you sailing towards, if you do not propose routes of peace, creative ways to end the war in Ukraine (...)?", Launched Jorge Bergoglio.
"We are sailing on the ocean of history in tumultuous times and we feel the lack of courageous routes of peace", regretted the pope, who has not ceased to call for silencing the guns in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022.
The 86-year-old Argentinian Jesuit was welcomed with military honors in the Portuguese capital, where a million young pilgrims are expected on the occasion of this major international gathering within a Catholic Church in full reflection on its future.
"We are the Pope's youth!" Chanted hundreds of faithful, beating drums and waving flags in the colors of their countries as they waited for him outside the Belém Palace, where he met with the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
"In the right direction"
Young people from almost every nation in the world flocked to the sunny Portuguese capital for this week of festive, cultural and spiritual gatherings, which opened on Tuesday with a mass at the top of a hill overlooking the city centre. city.
This kickoff gathered a crowd of 200.000 pilgrims, according to the Portuguese police. According to estimates by local authorities, they could be 750.000 for the Pope's welcoming ceremony which will take place Thursday evening on the same site.
Some 16.000 members of the police and medical services are deployed for the occasion and several roads and metro stations are closed, a challenge for Lisbon, a city of 550.000 inhabitants which already welcomes many tourists in this summer period.
With 11 speeches and around twenty meetings, the program of this 42nd trip abroad is busy for the Bishop of Rome, two months after a major abdominal operation.
Less than two months before the opening of a world gathering in Rome intended to reflect on the future of the Church, this event also serves as a barometer on the position of young Catholics vis-à-vis the reception of LGBT+, the marriage of priests or the place of women. So many subjects on which Francis gradually outlined reforms in 10 years of pontificate.
The Pope has also told journalists that he wants to continue to encourage Catholic youth to "create havoc", a reference to his expression used at WYD in Rio in 2013 to encourage young people to get involved in the Church.
“The pope is someone special because he is changing the doctrine of the church in the right direction,” commented Maria Alvarez, a 45-year-old Spaniard.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)