WASHINGTON (February 12, 1998) -- In his Lenten message for 1998, Pope John Paul II called on Christians "to open our eyes to the poverty of many."
Using as a theme the words of the Gospel of Matthew: "Come, O blessed of my Father, for I was poor, marginalized and you welcomed me," the Pope expressed the wish that the 1998 Lenten season "become the occasion for each Christian to experience poverty with the Son of God and to be an instrument of His love in the service of those in need."
Noting that poverty has different meanings, Pope John Paul made it plain that he was speaking about both the absence of material means, which he termed "a scandal," and that form of poverty which "touches the soul and brings about grave sufferings."
The Pope's Lenten message was released by Cor Unum, the Vatican dicastery charged with the expression of the Catholic Church's care for the needy, and in this country by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). The liturgical season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 25.
Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of Cor Unum, said the theme of the Papal Lenten message for 1998 has its context within the three-year preparatory period for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and is in keeping with the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente in which 1998 is consecrated to the Holy Spirit and the Church is invited to place a particular emphasis on the virtue of hope.
"With his message for the upcoming Lenten season, the Holy Father exhorts the Church to reconciliation with God and neighbor while at the same time encouraging initiatives to again give hope to the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the marginalized within the context of a renewed and vigorous proclamation of the Gospel," Archbishop Cordes said.
In the message, Pope John Paul said material poverty assumes a multiplicity of forms: "the lack of the necessary means of survival and primary health care; the absence of a home or its inadequacy and the consequent abnormal situations; the marginalization of the weakest from society and the unemployed from the productive sector; the loneliness of those having no one to count on; the condition of international refugees and those who suffer from war and its cruelties; the inequality of salaries; the absence of a family and the grave consequences which derive from this such as drugs and violence."
"The individual is humiliated by the lack of these necessities of life," Pope John Paul wrote. "It is a tragedy before which those who have the possibility to intervene cannot, in conscience, remain indifferent," the Pope said.
"Another equally serious form of poverty exists," the Holy Father continued. "It is not the lack of material means but that of spiritual nourishment, of a response to essential questions, of hope for one's own existence. This poverty touches the soul and brings about grave sufferings. The consequences of this are right before our eyes and are often very sad, a life void of meaning. This kind of meaning is mostly found in environments where people live in comfort, materially satisfied but without a spiritual orientation."
"The proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed is the response to this poverty," the Pope continued. "The Gospel brings salvation and also brings light even in the darkness of suffering because it conveys the love and mercy of God."
"The Church continually combats all forms of poverty, because as Mother she is concerned that each and every person be able to live fully in dignity as a child of God," Pope John Paul declared. "The Lenten season is a special time for the members of the Church to recall their task towards helping their brethren."