Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that "for all our weaknesses" priests have an important role in the world.
Benedict did not directly mention the clergy abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic church for months. But during a daylong visit to a central Italian town, he received a round of applause and words of support by local youths greeting him "in this time of harsh attacks and media provocation."
Minutes later, Benedict told the youths that "for all our weaknesses, still priests are a precious presence in life."
The trip to Sulmona was dedicated to honoring Celestine V, the 13th-century hermit who resigned the papacy saying that he was not up to the task.
Benedict said his simple and humble lifestyle can serve as an example for modern men and women. The pontiff praised his predecessor for his detachment from material things such as money and clothes.
"We, too, who live in an epoch of greater comfort and possibilities, are called upon to appreciate a sober lifestyle," the pope said.
Celestine V resigned just months after becoming pope in 1294 at age 85. He was later put under guard for fear he would become the rallying point for a schism. Celestine died in 1296 and was declared a saint in 1313.
Benedict, at times wiping his forehead, conducted an open-air Mass in hot weather before thousands of faithful in one of Sulmona's main squares.
In modern society, Benedict told them, "it seems that every space, every moment must be filled with initiatives, activities, sounds. Often there isn't even the time to listen."
"Let's not fear the silence inside and outside of us, if we want to be able to perceive not just the voice of God but also (the voices) of those who are next to us," he said.
The pope also sought to encourage those still suffering from the earthquake that struck this region in April 2009, killing some 300 people. Benedict visited the area soon afterward, praying before the salvaged remains of Celestine.
The sex abuse scandal has shaken the Roman Catholic Church in Europe and beyond, as reports of rape and other sexual abuse of minors in seminars, schools and other church-run institutions have piled up. Victims have come forward accusing priests of abuse and bishops of covering up crimes in order to safeguard the church's name.
Benedict XVI has begged forgiveness from victims and promised to "do everything possible" to protect children.
The pope also held talks with local bishops and a small group of inmates from the Sulmona jail before heading back to the Vatican.
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