Pope prays at Fatima shrine, urges clergy to maintain ‘priestly ideals’
FATIMA, Portugal — Pope Benedict XVI traveled to the Catholic shrine of Fatima yesterday, recalling the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II and other “sufferings’’ of the church, which he has said included the church sex abuse scandal.
Benedict didn’t refer directly to the crisis a day after issuing his most explicit admission of the church’s own guilt. But he did remind priests and seminarians gathered at a vespers service that they must remain loyal to their vocation and help one another when “there is a certain weakening of priestly ideals.’’
He thanked them for their dedication — “often silent and certainly not easy’’ — and urged them to seek out new recruits for the priesthood.
Benedict traveled to Fatima to mark the date — May 13, 1917 — when three local shepherd children reported visions of the Virgin Mary. He will celebrate a Mass here today to mark the anniversary of the visions and the 10th anniversary of the beatification of two of the shepherds.
John Paul was shot in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 — a coincidence that led him to believe that the Virgin’s “unseen hand’’ had “rescued him from death in the assassination attempt,’’ Benedict said in a prayer at the shrine.
Benedict said John Paul had wanted to give the bullet that was extracted from his abdomen to the shrine as a measure of his gratitude; the bullet today forms part of the crown of the statue of the Virgin in a chapel here where Benedict prayed.
“It is a profound consolation to know that you are crowned not only with the silver and gold of our joys and hopes but also with the ‘bullet’ of our anxieties and sufferings,’’ Benedict said. After praying silently before the statue, he placed on it a golden rose, a symbol of papal gratitude since medieval times.
Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca fired on John Paul in the Vatican’s central square, gravely injuring him. While his motive remains unclear, Agca was convicted and served his sentence in Italy before being transferred to Turkey, where he was freed earlier this year after serving out the remainder of another sentence.
Agca had said he wanted to visit Fatima when Benedict was here; Portuguese government authorities asked him to postpone the visit, his lawyer said.
Many pilgrims attending yesterday’s service said Benedict’s visit gave them hope, particularly as Portugal, Western Europe’s poorest country, confronts Europe’s economic crisis.
“The pope can inspire people to respect things like charity and loving thy neighbor and not being selfish,’’ said Miguel Ferreira, a 39-year-old businessman.
But he added: “The pope can only do so much. He can’t hike pay.’’