By Sarah Mac Donald - 12 February, 2019
Lighting the candles of atonement will bring to mind those who have been left “with lifelong suffering as a result of abuse, whose trust was so deeply betrayed and whose faith has been so cruelly tested within the sanctity of the Church”.
The annual Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Sexual Abuse will take place on Friday 15 February with candles of atonement lit in cathedrals and parishes throughout the country.
Welcoming the initiative, the leader of the Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, said lighting the candles of atonement would bring to mind “our brothers and sisters, and their families, who have been left with a lifelong suffering as a result of abuse, whose trust was so deeply betrayed and whose faith has been so cruelly tested within the sanctity of the Church by perpetrators of abuse”.
The atonement candles were blessed and dedicated by the bishops during their recent retreat in Knock.
The Day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors of Abuse is an initiative started by Pope Francis. It was first marked in Irish dioceses and parishes in 2017.
Archbishop Martin, who will represent the Irish Church at the Vatican summit on safeguarding later this month, highlighted that he has been meeting victims and survivors of abuse and members of their families in the four provinces of Ireland in preparation for the summit in Rome.
“Many have spoken to me about the importance of prayer for survivors, and for the need for the Church to be open to justice, to atone and never forget them.”
He said he had been humbled by survivors’ courage and overwhelmed by their generosity of spirit.
“It is my intention to relay the lived experience and insights of Irish survivors, both personally to Pope Francis, and more widely to the safeguarding meeting in Rome later this month.”
The Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Sexual Abuse takes place a week before the opening of Pope Francis’ gathering in Rome with senior bishops and major religious superiors on 21 February. That gathering continues until 24 February, discussing child safeguarding throughout the universal Church.
“The Candle of Atonement and accompanying prayer are offered as a reminder to all of the need for us to atone, to ask forgiveness as a Church for the suffering caused by abuse. My hope is that these candles will be lit in cathedrals and parishes across the country as a reminder of the need for atonement and that they will symbolise repentance, light in the darkness and hope,” Dr Martin said.
Encouraging dioceses and parishes to undertake the new prayer initiative and to light the Candle of Atonement, he said it would mean a lot to survivors if the Candle of Atonement were a permanent feature in the Irish Church’s cathedrals and parish churches.
People visiting the church for quiet prayer might light the ‘Candle of Atonement’, pray the prayer, and bring to mind someone they know who has been directly impacted or affected by abuse.
He specifically asked people to light the candle at all Masses from 15 to 17 February, and also on the weekend of 23 to 24 February while the safeguarding meeting is taking place with Pope Francis in Rome.
He suggested that Divine Mercy Sunday was another significant date, “because I am convinced that prayer and outreach to survivors of abuse is a modern-day corporal and spiritual work of mercy.”
Archbishop Eamon continued, “The simple prayer ritual for the dedication and lighting of the ‘Candle of Atonement’ in cathedrals and parish churches is based on the very moving Penitential Rite composed and prayed by Pope Francis at the final Mass of the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Phoenix Park last August when he implored the Lord’s mercy for the crimes of abuse and asked for forgiveness.”
Speaking to Catholicireland.net in Monaghan following the episcopal ordination of Bishop Larry Duffy, Archbishop Martin explained that his open letter published in the Irish Catholic newspaper inviting people to reflect on the issue of safeguarding had generated a “large amount of feedback”.
“I conducted quite an extensive listening exercise. I wrote to quite a number of victims and survivors and I had four days of meetings in the four provinces.”
He said the feedback would provide “a snapshot of where we are at on this issue in Ireland”. The bishops would discuss this on his return from the abuse summit in Rome.
“I think Ireland has done a huge amount and that is what I am getting in the responses, but I am also hearing that we can’t become complacent, we have to be careful because this very awful sin and crime has a habit of changing. So, we have to be always on the alert to ensure that all of the Church’s activities are as safe as possible for children, vulnerable people and minors.”
Asked if every bishops’ conference should have an independent body to deal with complaints of abuse, Dr Martin responded, “There is no doubt in my mind that all the work the National Board for Safeguarding Children [NBSCCCI] has done since it was established has really called us to account in Ireland.”
This, he said, had been achieved through ensuring best practice in terms of standards and guidance but also through the NBSCCCI’s auditing function.
“The National Board comes into our dioceses and our files are open for them and they are able to examine how we have handled cases and also to hear feedback from people as to whether or not our standards are making a difference on the ground.”
He added that he would “certainly advocate when I am in Rome that such a body be established in every single country of the world because I believe we have been doing something here in Ireland.”
Candle of Atonement Prayer
Lord, forgive us our many sins.
We grieve and repent with all our hearts for having offended you, for our great failings and neglect of the young and vulnerable.
We place all of those who have been hurt by the Church in any way into your loving hands and under the protection of Our Blessed Mother.
Lord, bring peace to their broken lives and show us all the way out of darkness and into the light of your Word.
May we as the people of God be more fully human, more fully Christ-like and more fully your people, that we may see the errors of the past and go forward with renewed hope and faith in Christ and in our Church.