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Since the beginning of the trip to the United States, the Pontiff has given attention to the sexual abuse scandal.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Zenit) - Benedict XVI's meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests can help the Church in the United States move toward hope, purification and reconciliation, says a Vatican spokesman.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi affirmed this when he gave details about Thursday's meeting between the Pope and five or six abuse victims from the Archdiocese of Boston, accompanied by their archbishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley. The meeting was held at the apostolic nunciature in Washington.

"It was a very simple meeting, lived with great discretion," Father Lombardi said. It was not part of the official program and was not announced to the press. There were no members of the press in attendance.

"The meeting took place in the chapel of the nunciature and was essentially a prayer meeting that proceeded in an environment of great emotion," Father Lombardi added.

"First the archbishop said some words of introduction and then the Holy Father addressed some very sincere and moving words. Words that were very consistent with what he had already said in the discourses, but directed to these particular people, who were in front of him."

Since the beginning of the trip to the United States, the Pontiff has given attention to the sexual abuse scandal. He has addressed the issue three times, saying on the plane en route to the United States: "It is a great suffering for the Church in the United States and for the Church in general, for me personally."

Father Lombardi went on to explain, "Each one of those present passed before the Pope, placed their hands in his, and the Pope squeezed them. Each of them could express, if they had the strength to overcome their emotion, something of their personal history, and above all of their hope of being able to live serenely, of being able to find again serenity, and their lives of faith in the Church."

They also expressed "words of gratitude to the Holy Father, for his attention and prayer," the spokesman added.

"It was a meeting that lasted a bit more than 20 minutes, but that certainly left a deep mark on all those present," Father Lombardi continued. "The Pope assured his prayers now and in the future, not only for those present in the meeting, but for all the victims of the sexual abuse.

"Cardinal O'Malley gave the Pope a book in which the names -- just the first names, not the last names -- of a very large number of victims of sexual abuse in the archdiocese so that the Holy Father could remember them in prayer.

"It seems to me that, even if it was a brief and simple meeting, a long path has been walked, and that from the pages of shame and pain, the Church in the United States can move to the pages of hope, of purification, of reconciliation. Hope is precisely the theme with which the Pope is living these days: 'Christ Our Hope.'"

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