- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2010

UPDATED:

FATIMA, Portugal (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called abortion and same-sex marriage some of the most “insidious and dangerous” threats facing the world today, asserting key church teachings as he tried to move beyond the clerical abuse scandal.

Benedict made the comments to Catholic social workers, health providers and others after celebrating Mass before an estimated 400,000 people in Fatima. This central Portuguese farming town, where three shepherd children reported having visions of the Virgin Mary in 1917, is one of the most important shrines in Christianity.

Benedict’s visit to Fatima on the anniversary of the apparitions was the spiritual centerpiece of his four-day visit to Portugal, which ends Friday. It was cast by Vatican officials as evidence that he had turned a page in weathering the abuse scandal, which has dogged him for months.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, pointed to the turnout in Fatima and said it was “very beautiful and encouraging” that pilgrims hadn’t been deterred in expressing their faith despite months of revelations in Europe about priests who molested children and bishops and Vatican officials who turned a blind eye.

The faithful understand “the capacity of the church to effectively overcome — via conversion, penance and prayer — the dimension of real sin there is in our community,” Father Lombardi said.

Benedict himself admitted to the “sins within the church” on the first day of the trip, his most explicit admission of church culpability in the scandal. By Thursday, however, he had moved on to stressing core church teachings in the largely Roman Catholic country, where abortion on demand has been available since 2007 and where Parliament in January passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage. In addition, a judge in 2008 made it easier to obtain divorce even when one spouse objects.

Benedict told the gathering of lay Catholics that he appreciated their efforts at fighting abortion and promoting the family based on the “indissoluble marriage between a man and woman” — the Vatican’s way of expressing its opposition to divorce and same-sex marriage.

Such initiatives “help respond to some of the most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good today,” he said. “Alongside numerous other forms of commitment, such initiatives represent essential elements in the building of the civilization of love.”

The admonition was a break of sorts from the continuous message Benedict has delivered in Portugal about the suffering of the world and church – a message that resonates in Fatima, where the sick and infirm flock seeking remedies for ailments.

In a special message to the sick during Mass, Benedict urged them to take heart, saying they should “overcome the feeling of the uselessness of suffering which consumes a person from within and makes him feel a burden to those around him.”

“In suffering, you will discover an interior peace and even spiritual joy,” he said.

His message struck a chord with many in the huge gathering, among them elderly and infirm people who, with their heads bowed, fingered rosaries.

Aurora Clemente, a 65-year-old cook from Portugal’s northeastern tip, close to the border with Spain, said she had been coming to Fatima on May 13 for more than 30 years.

“Fatima makes miracles. When my son was seriously ill, I prayed to the Virgin of Fatima, and he survived,” she said.

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