02/06/2008, 00.00
VATICAN

Pope: "I pray for reconciliation, peace, and justice in the Middle East"

During the general audience, dedicated to a reflection on Lent as a time of conversion, and in particular to charity, Benedict XVI launched an appeal for the population of Chad, asking that they be guaranteed assistance and that the path of dialogue be chosen.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The pope offers his prayers on behalf of efforts to promote "reconciliation, justice, and peace" in the Middle East, and asks that "the dear populations of Chad" be spared "further violence", that humanitarian assistance be guaranteed, and that "the way of dialogue and reconciliation" be followed.  Benedict XVI today recalled the difficult and dramatic moments that the two regions of Asia and Africa are living through, in a brief greeting that he addressed, in English, to a delegation of Lebanese, Iraqi, and Jordanian political representatives present this morning in the audience hall at the Vatican, and in an appeal in Italian. 

In the discourse addressed to the 4,000 people present at the general audience, Benedict XVI spoke of today's celebration of Ash Wednesday, which this afternoon will see the pope celebrate the rite in the Roman basilica of Santa Sabina. 

"We know to what extent, unfortunately, the lure of material riches pervades modern life", Benedict XVI said, who on the first day of Lent wanted to recall that Christians "are called not to idolize earthly goods", and to look at them instead as a means for helping others in need.  For this reason, he indicated almsgiving as one of the practices helpful for conversion, a characteristic element of this time. 

Historically, the pope recalled, Lent was the period when Christians prepared for baptism, which would take place during the Easter vigil.  It was a "true conversion", and this is still the fundamental character of Lent today.  This period "prompts us to stamp a more decisive impulse on our Christian existence", because "commitments and busyness"  put us at risk of “forgetting the adventure in which Jesus has involved us".  For this reason, at the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, the celebrant says "remember that you are dust", or repeats the words of Jesus, "reform your lives": "both of these formulas are a reminder of the truth of human existence.  We are limited creatures, sinners who require penance and conversion".  But when "he proclaims his total autonomy from God, man becomes his own slave and often finds himself in dejected solitude". 

The time of Lent is, therefore, the terrain of an interior journey through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Recalling that in this year's message for Lent he emphasized the practice of almsgiving, the pope described this as a "concrete way of helping those who are in need " and "at the same time an ascetic exercise to free oneself from the temptation of material riches", following the example of Jesus.  In his school, we can "learn to make a gift of our lives", to "make ourselves available not so much to give something that we possess, but rather ourselves".  The Gospel, he repeated in the words of his Lenten message, "is summarized in the commandment of charity". 

So when almsgiving is done in a profound spirit of faith, it becomes a means of realizing ourselves: "experience demonstrates that one is not made happy by satisfying one's material needs.  We need the infinite joy represented by God ".

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