Pope Francis held private audiences with lay groups on Wednesday, speaking with Ukrainian pilgrims and victims of sexual abuse at the Portuguese apostolic nunciature.
The pontiff first met with Ukrainian Catholics who were attending the World Youth Day celebrations underway in Lisbon, holding a dialogue about the Russian invasion and the state of the country.
“This morning, before leaving the Nunciature, Pope Francis met a group of 15 young pilgrims from Ukraine accompanied by Mr. Denys Kolada, Consultant for Dialogue with Religious Organisations at the Ukrainian government,” Holy See Press Director Matteo Bruni said in a statement on Wednesday.
“After listening to their moving stories, [the pope] addressed a few words to the young people, expressing his ‘sorrowful and prayerful’ closeness,” the statement added.
Pope Francis has been an outspoken critic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, admonishing leaders for the conflict and offering to personally facilitate negotiations to end the violence.
“Where are you sailing if you are not showing the world paths of peace, creative ways for bringing an end to the war in Ukraine and to the many conflicts causing so much bloodshed?” the pope asked in a World Youth Day address.
In the evening of the same day, Pope Francis held an audience with Portugese victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church.
“This evening, after concluding his institutional and ecclesial encounters, Pope Francis received in the Nunciature a group of 13 victims of abuse by members of the clergy who were accompanied by several Church organizations committed to the protection of minors,” the Holy See Press Office stated.
The Holy See said the papal audience took place “in an atmosphere of intense listening and lasted over an hour.”
While photography was allowed at the papal meeting with Ukrainian pilgrims, the audience with sex abuse victims was kept intensely private and the attendees were not identified.
Pope Francis referenced the sex abuse crisis in his vespers speech at Jerónimos Monastery, where he reflected on the biblical story of Saints Peter and Andrew — fishermen who were called to ministry by Jesus after finishing a day without catching fish.
“There are moments in our ecclesial journey when we can feel a similar weariness — when we seem to be holding on to empty nets,” the pontiff said. “This is not uncommon in countries of ancient Christian traditions buffeted by social and cultural changes and increasingly marked by secularism, indifference to God, and growing detachment from the practice of the faith.”
“It is often accentuated by disappointment and anger with which some of the people view the Church at times — due to our poor witness and the scandals that have marred the faith and have called us to a humble purification starting with the anguished cry of the victims who must always be accepted and listened to,” Pope Francis told the audience.
He continued, “Whenever we feel discouraged, we can feel tempted to leave the boat and entangled in the nets of resignation and pessimism. Indeed, we need to bring those struggles and tears to the Lord.”