WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — Polish Catholics participated in Masses and penance liturgies for recent scandals over sexual abuse by clergy and acts of vandalism and profanation at local churches.

“The vision of Christ’s suffering can transform human hearts, spurring recognition of sins and a request for forgiveness,” said Bishop Wieslaw Mering of Wloclawek.

“Today, we are being told to have fun, enjoy life, be ourselves and realize our desires. But the path to salvation doesn’t lead through egoism,” he said.

Preaching to 60,000 people at a Mass in Wloclawek Sept. 14, he said Poland and Europe needed “women and men with courage and love to stand under the cross of Jesus” and to show themselves to the world as “true witnesses to the Gospel.”

The Mass, one of hundreds across Poland, marked the national “Poland Under the Cross” festival. Poland’s Catholic information agency, KAI, said prayer meetings also had taken place among Polish Catholics in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan and in countries of Western Europe.

In a statement to Catholic News Service, organizers said the festival fulfilled a 1997 appeal to Poles by St. John Paul II to “defend the cross,” adding that Catholics worldwide had been invited “to see how Polish people pray and consecrate their life and country to Jesus Christ.”

The statement said the “Poland Under the Cross” festival was the spiritual result of two previous events: a “Great Penance Day” attended by state and government leaders at Jasna Gora national sanctuary in October 2016 for “the sins of the Polish nation,” and a mass rosary recitation in October 2017, during which more than a million Catholics linked hands along Poland’s 2,000-mile land and sea borders.