By Irene Lagan
ROME, MAY 31, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The world becomes a "barren and sad" place when the innocence of children is "crushed, broken, muddied, abused and destroyed," says the Vatican's point man for cases of sexual abuse.
Msgr. Charles Scicluna, promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said this Saturday at a holy hour of reparation for cases of sexual abuse by priests, organized by pontifical university students and seminarians at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
The event, organized by students Mary Nolan and Joanne Ford, along with seminarian Luke De Pulford from the Diocese of Southwark, United Kingdom, arose following Benedict XVI's explicit call for prayer in his letter to the Church in Ireland following the recent abuse scandal there, and more recently, during his apostolic trip to Fatima.
"Everyone from bishops to high-ranking Vatican officials to students and lay people, including pilgrims, came to be together before Christ to pray for healing as a family," said De Pulford. "It was a real cross-section of the Church in Rome."
Msgr. Scicluna, who delivered the homily for the service, reflected on passages from Chapters 9 and 10 of Mark's Gospel that demonstrate the special rapport Jesus had with children. "This scene," he said, "is central and emblematic for those called to be disciples of Christ."
The Vatican official, who deals directly with cases of priests accused of abuse of minors, noted that according to the Church Fathers, the "child is the eloquent image of innocence."
"To welcome the child, to open your heart to the humility of a child, to receive him in the name of Jesus, the eyes of the Master, implies openness to the Father and the Holy Spirit," he said.
On the other hand, the promoter of justice lamented, "How barren and sad the world becomes when this beautiful image, when this holy icon is crushed, broken, muddied, abused and destroyed."
Quoting St. Gregory the Great, Msgr. Scicluna suggested that abuses committed by those within the Church are among the most devastating: "Thus, after having taken a profession of holiness, anyone who destroys others through words or deed would have been better off if their misdeeds had caused them to die in secular dress, rather than, through their holy office, being imposed as an example for others in their sins.
"Without a doubt, if they had fallen all by themselves, their suffering in hell would be easier to bear."
He likened God to a "divine surgeon" who "cuts in order to heal, amputates in order to cure."
Again, drawing on the wisdom of the Fathers, he said that Christian friendship must be "submitted to the law of God," and ties of affection that are also "stumbling blocks" must be severed.
Msgr. Scicluna also addressed wounds in the Church caused by "arrogance, insatiable ambition, abuse of power and injustices committed by those who abuse their ministry to advance their careers."
Concluding, Msgr. Scicluna quoted Benedict XVI's homily on Pentecost, and urged those seek to serve the Church to allow themselves to be purified by the fire of God's love and to live according to his logic of self-giving rather than of possession.
The holy hour, marked by silence and peace, was a marked contrast to the bustle of tourists in St. Peter's during the day.
Father Billy Swan, a priest from the Diocese of Ferns, Ireland, said there were several remarkable aspects of the morning devoted to prayer, including Msgr. Scicluna's guided meditation that showed the "link between praxis and prayer" in the Church.
"An important aspect was that this was a response by young people to the crisis to enter into a spirit of prayer and solidarity with those who have been victims of abuse, but also those who have abused themselves," said Father Swan.
He added, "One of the things that particularly impressed me were the [intercessory] prayers that I think captured everybody who was involved in the tragedy of sin that was so dark and so horrific and evident in the recent revelations and public reports that have come out in our own country.
"The [intercessory] prayers that remembered the victims of sexual abuse by clergy and religious -- to hear that prayed in public in the heart of St. Peter's Basilica for me was a symbol of the fact that the seriousness, and the plight, and the wounds of many people have been hurt, has found its way into the heart of the Church."
Gregorian University student Maria Colonna said the many people who came for part or all of the morning reflects the heart of the Church.
"All of us here know the love of Christ," she said. "We've encountered him personally. Something this serious needs God's grace and mercy. The scandal mars the face of Christ -- his love -- that the Church is supposed to present to the world."
Following the morning of reflection, many who attended expressed gratitude to Vatican officials for the time of prayer, which many felt reflected the universality of the Church
Father Avram Brown, from the Diocese of Sacramento, concluded the morning with solemn benediction.
He remarked that the morning of prayer itself is a sign of the Holy Spirit's presence at work in the Church: "The gathering of members of the Church from around the world at St. Peter's Basilica was truly a manifestation of the universality of prayer blossoming forth in this urgent hour.
"Recognizing that our identity is founded in Jesus Christ, and the restoration of our broken imaging of him flows from the renewal of our union with his wounded heart, this time spent in prayer before Christ in the Eucharist was a time of grieving with Christ, but likewise an encounter with his healing grace."
"There is no Church without constant renewal in Christ," he added, "and in times of trial like this placing ourselves before our shepherd allows him to reform our hearts in his image: restoring what is broken, and pruning away what is dead."
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