Abuse victims meet pope after Munich to Rome bike trek

Wednesday, 17 May 2023 (16:50 IST)
A group of victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church had an audience with Pope Francis on Wednesday, after reaching the goal of their bicycle challenge.
The initiative — the stated aim of which is to be seen and heard — was organized by victims groups in the Munich and Freising archdiocese under the motto "We're leaving! Church, are you with us?"
What did the journey entail?
The group of nine abuse victims, along with their riding companions, traveled 715 kilometers (about 450 miles) in ten stages over as many successive days. 
To symbolize their emotional state, they also took along stones bearing words to reflect their thoughts and feelings.
Among them were anger, shame, worthlessness, sorrow, power structure, indignity, and suicide. Two black crosses were drawn on one gray rock, with the names Wolfgang and Thomas next to them.
The stones will now find a home in the garden of the Bavarian archdiocese's Rome meeting center, alongside a replica of Munich's famous Marian column.
The group arrived on Tuesday afternoon in the Piazzale Socrate in northwest Rome, which overlooks the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica.
They were received by Munich Vicar General Christoph Klingan and the head of the archbishop's ordinariate, Stephanie Herrmann. Both had said goodbye to them in Munich. Representatives of the German embassy to the Vatican were also present.
Strong message to the Vatican
After attending a general audience with Pope Francis, a face-to-face meeting was planned between the group and the pontiff.
The party, whose mission is also to encourage victims to "stand up, get in touch, and talk about" abuse, plans to give the head of the Catholic Church a replica of the sculpture "Heart" by Munich artist Michael Pendry, along with a message.
They want Francis to stand firmly on the side of the victims, punish the perpetrators, and hold bishops accountable.
The cyclists will hand over a letter to the pope containing demands about how the Church should deal with sexual abuse — including a concrete timetable for their actions.
A meeting with child protection expert Hans Zollner and some of his students is planned for Thursday. A Jesuit priest, Zollner leads a center specializing in safeguarding at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.

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