VATICAN CITY, MAR 5, 2003 (VIS) - Pope John Paul focussed his general audience catechesis on Lent, calling it "a time of intense prayer, penance and greater attention to our needy brothers," and saying that "with the imposition of ashes, we recognize that we are sinners, and we invoke God's pardon, showing a sincere desire for conversion." He reminded the 6,500 pilgrims in the Paul VI Hall that today, Ash Wednesday, is dedicated to prayer and fasting for peace in the world.
The Pope noted that "according to the Church's ancient tradition, all faithful today are called to abstain from meat and to fast, except for those who are reasonably prevented from doing so for reasons of health or age. Fasting has a great value in the life of a Christian, ... and to it must be united a sincere desire for inner purification, a willingness to obey the divine will and thoughtful solidarity towards our brothers, especially the poorest."
"As we enter into Lent," affirmed the Holy Father, "we cannot not take into account the current international context, in which we see menacing tensions of war. There must be, on everyone's part, an aware acceptance of responsibilities and a common effort to avoid another dramatic conflict for mankind. For this reason I wished for Ash Wednesday to be a day of prayer and fasting to implore peace in the world. We must ask God above all for the conversion of hearts, where every form of evil and every motivation towards sin is rooted; we must pray and fast for peaceful coexistence between peoples and nations."
John Paul II pointed out that he had proposed the invitation to conversion, penance and solidarity in his annual Message for Lent which this year he dedicated to the theme, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." He added that "converting oneself to this way of thinking, one can build a social order marked not by a precarious balance of conflicting interests, but by a fair search for the common good, in the sign of solidarity."
"May this day of prayer and fasting for peace," he concluded, "be translated into concrete gestures of reconciliation. From the family sphere to the international one, may each of us feel and become co-responsible for building peace."