Day of Prayer heralds time of healing amid abuse crisis

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PROVIDENCE — The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is Sept. 14, this year marked a day of prayer and penance in the Diocese of Providence.

“We come first of all to ask God’s forgiveness of our sins — especially the sins of sexual abuse committed against children and youth — in our diocese, across the country and around the world,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said during a noon Mass that day at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

The Mass was followed by three hours of Eucharistic adoration that concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. At least 200 people from across the diocese and New England attended the Mass, and many of them later spent time in prayer before the Eucharistic Lord.

“We need to start with prayer. It’s important to acknowledge the sins that we’ve committed,” said Petri Lopez, a 26-year-old parishioner of the cathedral.

Bishop Tobin said he undertook a personal 24-hour fast from 8 a.m. on Sept. 14 to 8 a.m. on Sept. 15 in penance for his own faults and failures as a Christian, priest and bishop, as well as for the sins and failures of all priests and bishops related to the sexual abuse of minors.

“What we do today is part of our faith tradition,” Bishop Tobin said, referring to prayer and penance.

In recent months, the Catholic community in the United States has been hard hit by several new scandals related to clergy sex abuse. In July, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals amidst allegations that the former archbishop of Washington D.C., had sexually abused minors and seminarians.

In mid-August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report documented 70 years of alleged clergy sex abuse against more than 1,000 minors in that state. A few weeks later, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, the former papal nuncio to the United States, released a letter alleging that Pope Francis and several American bishops were aware of the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick.

As the main celebrant in the Sept. 14 Mass, Bishop Tobin emphasized that the Catholic community in the Diocese of Providence sought the “forgiveness and healing of all those who have been wounded by these terrible deeds.”

“When we, as a community and as individuals recognize that we have sinned against God and harmed our neighbors — we humble ourselves before the Lord and we fast and pray,” said Bishop Tobin, who invited the faithful to join him that day in prayer and penance.

“As I have insisted already, our commitment to end the scourge of sexual abuse doesn’t end with prayer,” he said, “But it is important to begin here, knowing that without God’s grace, we can do nothing; that even the best and most determined of our human efforts will be in vain.”

In a letter sent to the faithful announcing the day of prayer and penance, Bishop Tobin underscored his commitment to providing a safe environment for children and youth in the Diocese of Providence, and to “purge the Church of these horrible acts and to respond compassionately to all those who have been harmed remains firm.”

And observing penance on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the bishop said, allowed the Christian community the opportunity to look at the Cross as the source and sign of ultimate victory, while not forgetting its suffering and pain.

“We profess our faith from that suffering came glory; from death, new life; and from despair, hope,” Bishop Tobin said.

Several people who attended the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration later said they found hope and strength in the bishop’s words.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Diane Constantino, a parishioner of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, who added that the Church is going through a difficult time of purification.

“It’s important to acknowledge our humanity and the fact that sin exists,” said Joseph Watson, a resident of Sharon, Massachusetts, who was in Providence on Sept. 14 and decided to visit the cathedral.

“I think it’s important that we as the people of God atone for our sins and pray for the healing of victims,” said Deb Doyle, a Warwick resident. “I think Bishop Tobin addressed all the issues of the sin and the need for healing.”

In closing his homily, Bishop Tobin said that in the sins of its members, the Church has once again been wounded.

“Yes, we have crucified Jesus again,” Bishop Tobin said. “May God hear our prayers, accept our sacrifices, forgive our sins, and with Jesus, raise us up once again.”