21 April 2010

Inclusive messages welcomed

Christian Peregin

The Pope appeared to leave Malta on a high after an enthusiastic welcome and a well-received private meeting with victims of alleged abuse, a sharp contrast to the run-up to his arrival, which was overshadowed by literal and metaphorical clouds of worry.

Pope Benedict XVI is not renowned for his charisma or public relations expertise. But the messages he imparted during his 27-hour visit were uncharacteristically positive and non-controversial, at least in the global context.

The Pope, who looked refreshed rather than defeated, asked forgiveness for the Church's sins, stressed the importance of marriage, encouraged Maltese to extend a hand of friendship to immigrants and called for a Church that rejected no one.

Fr Joe Cassar, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, welcomed the Pope's frequent references to refugees and asylum seekers. He also noted the Pope's call for Maltese to put into practice "God's all-inclusive love".

"I felt the Pope was not here to chastise or condemn, but to encourage and bring out the best in all of us," he said, adding that people who were sceptical about the visit were positively touched by the visit.

Dominican priest ń†wann Xerri described the Pope's welcome as "an explosion of life, grace and generosity" that went contrary to what had been expected by most opinion makers.

He said the Pope was attentive to young people and instead of dismissing the alleged abuse victims, he met them, out of the media's spotlight and in a chapel.

Mario Gerada, an active member of the gay Catholic group Drachma, described the Pope's address as "very beautiful and all-inclusive", which was based on dialogue.

"What I found beautiful was that we moved away from the mentality that Catholics who have some difficulties on certain moral issues with the Church are enemies. We all believe in the same foundations. If I challenge the Church it does not mean it is my enemy. I felt there was very healthy dialogue."

Divorce lobbyist Martin Scicluna said he did not expect the Pope to speak any differently about divorce due to the Church's clear doctrine on the matter.

He said everyone accepted and respected that, but it did not mean civil society should not seek solutions for the thousands who wished to remarry.

"The Pope had obviously been briefed to speak about this burning local issue and in defence of marriage. The latter is an issue of course on which all who want to see the introduction of civil laws for re-marriage after legal separation would wholeheartedly agree."

Meanwhile, anthropologist and columnist Mark Anthony Falzon was not as excited as the rest and described the Pope's message as "run of the mill".

He said people were mostly moved by the "emotional/visual" experience of seeing the Pope rather than his message - similarly to when they were moved by a statue during a village feast.
However, he was struck by the meeting with the alleged abuse victims, which he described as "a class act by the Vatican media people".

"They got their much-needed news headlines, plus the added bonus of Lawrence Grech saying the Pope had cried. I hate to say it, but Mr Grech and his group have been abused a second time," he said, going contrary to the victims' own positive response to the meeting.


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