'The Old Guitarist' by Artist Pablo Picasso via Flickr

In Front of Those Tears, I Found a Father Again

The meeting of the Pope with the abuse victims in Malta, and his tears, struck everyone. What happened afterwards? We asked some of the protagonists, and they told us why “for the first time, I envisioned I could forgive those who had hurt me so much.”
Alessandra Buzzetti

“When I saw the Pope in tears in front of me, I asked myself: why does he suffer so much for something he is not responsible for in the least? For the first time, I envisioned forgiving those who had hurt me so much.” Joseph Magro, a 38-year-old man and father of two daughters, has just left the Nunzio’s headquarters in Rabat, Malta, where he and seven other abuse victims had a private meeting with the Pope. Around his neck, he is wearing white rosary beads with the Pope Benedict XVI Papal Seal. Manuel stands next to him. He too, on top of his necktie, is wearing a necklace with the face of Christ; he too is a 40-year-old father of two little girls; he too still carries the bleeding wound of the abuse he suffered–when he was a child–at the hands of a few religious of the Saint Joseph House, an institution located a few miles from La Valletta, which welcomes minors in difficult situations. Manuel recounts: “The Pope took my hands and squeezed them, and I understood how much he was suffering. I told him that I was very sorry for him–he doesn’t have anything to do with those events–and that I love the Church and I feel pain for those who, in the name of Jesus Christ, covered it with filth!” These are the words of the brief private encounter between Manuel and Benedict XVI. The Pope arrived around lunch time, after the Mass with Maltese Catholics. He was visibly fatigued, yet he was determined not to disappoint the deepest desire in the hearts of those eight men, whose childhood and innocence had been violated by a few priests. The meeting took place in the chapel, starting with a communal prayer followed by the brief one-on-one conversations that Benedict XVI had with each of them. Manuel is emotional; he can’t hold back the tears while he describes the humble gaze of Benedict XVI, who made him feel so deeply embraced that, after a long time, he has started regaining some self-confidence. He keeps repeating, “He told me that he believed me, that he trusted me.”

An Act of Courage
Manuel is a made-up name; he remains anonymous to protect his daughters, 7 and 9 years of age, and to avoid putting on their shoulders the weight of a story that he himself, for the past 13 years, had tried to block out. He had never told anybody, not even his wife.

Joseph shares a similar story. He too spent 10 years as a guest of the Saint Joseph House, and for 2 of those 10 years (from 1988 to 1990), he was the object of the perversion of a priest. That same priest celebrated his marriage in 1995. Joseph tells us: “It is difficult to explain. For us orphan kids, that priest was really like a father. When I was 18 and I left the House, he was the one who found a job for me. The same happened to many others, but each of us thought he was the only kid who was being abused by that priest.”

It was an unspeakable secret; more so for a fragile child, from whom life had already asked so much, and who had been abandoned by his parents in an environment that had taught him to save face and appearances at all cost. Then, in 2003, Lawrence Grech, yet another victim of the acts of violence that were taking place at the Saint Joseph House, decided to denounce the priest in order to prevent further evil. The trial is still going on, with delays and postponements. After the Maltese bishops’ public appeal asking the faithful to denounce the pedophile priests, but most of all after the Pope’s encounter with the main witnesses for the prosecution, three more victims came forth. Was this a paradox caused by the intense media pressure of the past few months? Or was it the result of the possibility to look in a truer way at a wound that had been blocked out until then? This possibility came through the courageous gesture of a Pope who is not afraid of the truth, and who takes on his own shoulders faults that are not his own, showing the world the face of He who alone can heal our wounds.

The Same Name
Joseph talks without hesitation: “I felt healed–I met a saint. The Pope is very different from how we see him on TV, or from the way the newspapers describe him. He is humble, sensitive, calm, and yet suffering. When I told him my name he gasped, because it’s his name too. I asked him the question I cared about most: how could some priests do what they had done to me? He answered that he didn’t know, that it was a mystery, because those people had taken vows in front of God. He assured me he would pray for me. It was an unforgettable encounter.”

The memory of that encounter lives on for Joseph every evening, surprisingly, when he prays the Rosary with his daughters. He confesses that he didn’t know the Mysteries of the Rosary and that he had never prayed with his family before. When asked about this new resolution, he answers, “Why did I decide to pray the Rosary? Because if the Pope gave it to me, it means that he wants me to use it!” It’s the simple and immediate answer that a son who has been reunited with his father would give.