By Sabina Castelfranco of  VOA News | Rome – A massive crowd of Catholic faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square Sunday to show their support for Pope Benedict. The Catholic Church continues to be rocked by a clerical sex abuse scandal.

From the early morning, Tens of thousands of Catholic faithful made their way to Saint Peter’s Square early Sunday. Many carried large banners expressing solidarity for Pope Benedict. Families turned out with their children and many shouted slogans in support of the pope.

It is a difficult time for the Catholic Church and for Pope Benedict. Both have come under attack over the mis-handling of sex abuse by priests and bishops all over the world. But dozens of lay movements and voluntary associations organized this meeting to show how much backing there is for the pope.

Large crowds like the one in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday are usually reserved for holiday Masses and canonizations, not for Pope Benedict’s brief weekly prayer from his studio window. The Church was also marking the World Day for Social Communications.

Addressing the huge crowd, the pope thanked the pilgrims for their warmth and their presence in such large numbers and for their trust.

Pope Benedict said the faithful show their great affection and deep closeness to the Church and to the pope and also to priests, who every day look after them, in their commitment towards spiritual and moral renewal aimed at better serving the Church.

Pope Benedict said the true enemy to combat is spiritual sin, which, he said, sometimes also infects members of the Church.

The pope also spoke of his recent trip to Portugal where he prayed at the shrine of Fatima. He said he felt touched in a similar way seeing the huge multitude present in Saint Peter’s Square as he did in Fatima. The pope returned from his four-day visit to Portugal on Friday.

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