tThough it wasn’t exactly drawn up this way, the closing ceremonies in Rome this week for the Vatican’s “Year of Priests” has the feel of a massive rally in support of Pope Benedict XVI, who has faced significant criticism in recent months for his handling of the Catholic sexual abuse crisis.
tA vigil service this evening in St. Peter’s Square drew an estimated 15,000 priests from 91 countries – which, assuming the count is accurate, would represent just under four percent of the total number of Catholic priests in the world. According to Vatican Radio, this was the first time a pope has invited priests from around the world to come to Rome for a celebration of the priesthood.
tWhen Benedict XVI entered the square at roughly 9:30 pm Rome time, the crowd erupted into loud and sustained applause. Earlier, applause also greeted Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, when he said that the priests wanted to express their “support and sincere affection” for the pope.
tThe pope returned the favor, telling the crowd that he wanted to offer “a great thank you” to the priests of the world.