WORLDPOST
08/19/2011 04:47 pm ET | Updated Oct 19, 2011

Pope hears prayer for victims of abuse

By Judy MacInnes and Maria Ibanez

MADRID (Reuters) - Pope Benedict listened to prayers for victims of sexual abuse on Friday as he presided at a huge procession for tens of thousands of young people in Spain.

The Pope's second day in Spain culminated with a Way of the Cross procession in central Madrid, during which prayers were read for different sectors of society that were suffering.

"Jesus suffers with all those who are victims of human genocide where brutal violence explodes, or victims of rape and sexual abuse, the crimes against children and adults," the prayer read.

Silence fell as representatives of different countries and social groups -- including unemployed young people and those who suffer persecution for their beliefs -- took it in turn to carry a plain wooden cross, representing the one on which Christ was crucified.

Statues and sculptures normally reserved for Spain's world-famous Holy Week processions also lined the route.

"It was a very emotional experience, unforgettable. A unique experience. The Holy Week statues are one of the most amazing things you can see in Spain," said Ricardo Ramirez, a 28-year-old pilgrim from Paraguay.

The prayers, written by Spanish nuns for the occasion, reflected the pain and scandal the Catholic Church has experienced in the recent years over disclosures that priests had sexually abused children in a number of countries.

Benedict has apologized for sexual abuse by priests but victims groups say the Vatican has not done enough to bring the guilty to justice.

Earlier on Friday, Benedict held talks with Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who in 2005 led Spain to become the third country in the world to legalize gay marriage -- a moved that put him on a collision course with the Church.

Benedict's visit comes at a time of economic hardship for Spain, with one in five unemployed, of which a large proportion are young people.

The costs of 84-year-old pontiff's trip has reignited criticism by Los Indignados (The Indignant), a group whose mainly young members occupied Madrid's Puerta del Sol in May to protest against 21 percent unemployment and spending cuts.

Demonstrations against the visit, which have also drawn other protest groups, gays and lesbians and even Spanish priests, turned violent on Wednesday evening.

As World Youth Day pilgrims participated in the devotions, about 2,000 protesters affiliated to the Real Democracy NOW platform gathered in central Madrid.

Gay activists in Madrid plan to stage an anti-Pope protest in defense of same sex partnerships on Saturday evening.

The Vatican expressed regret over the clashes between the police and the anti-Pope protesters on Wednesday but said they were "marginal" within the wider framework of the event.

(Reporting by Judy MacInnes and Maria Ibanez; editing by Rosalind Russell)