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Thursday, February 7, 2008


VATICAN CITY, 7 FEB 2008 (VIS) - At 5 p.m. yesterday, Ash Wednesday, in the basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome's Aventine Hill, the Pope presided at a Eucharistic celebration during which the blessing and imposition of the ashes took place.

  The Mass was preceded by a moment of prayer in the nearby church of Sant'Anselmo, after which those present - including cardinals, archbishops, bishops, the Benedictine monks of Sant'Anselmo, the Dominican Fathers of Santa Sabina, and a number of lay faithful - made their way in penitential procession to the basilica of Santa Sabina.

  In his homily, the Pope reflected on the themes of prayer and suffering. "Lent", he said, "precisely because it invites people to prayer, penance and fasting, represents a providential moment to revive and strengthen our hope".

  Prayer "is the primary and foremost 'weapon' with which to 'face the struggle against the spirit of evil'", said the Holy Father, indicating that "without the element of prayer, the human 'I' ends up by closing in on itself and conscience, which should be the echo of the voice of God, risks being reduced to a mirror of the self. In the same way, interior dialogue becomes a monologue that gives rise to many forms of self-justification.

  "Thus prayer is a guarantee of openness to others", he added. "Those who free themselves for God and His needs, open themselves to others, to the brothers and sisters who knock at the door of their hearts and ask to be heard, who ask for attention, for forgiveness, and sometimes for correction, but always in fraternal charity.

  "True prayer is never centered on the self but always focuses on others. ... True prayer is the motor of the world, because it keeps us open to God. For this reason, without prayer there is no hope, only illusion.

  "It is not, in fact, the presence of God that alienates man, but His absence. Without the True God, Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, hopes turns into an illusion that induces us to evade reality".

  "Fasting and almsgiving, harmoniously linked to prayer, may also be considered as 'places' in which to learn the exercise of Christian hope", said the Holy Father. In this context he indicated how "thanks to the joint action of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, Lent ... forms Christians to be men and women of hope, following the example of the saints".

  On the subject of suffering, Benedict XVI recalled that Christ "suffered for truth and justice, bringing into the history of mankind the gospel of suffering, which is the other facet of the gospel of love. God cannot suffer, but He is able to and wants to show 'com-passion'".

  "The greater the hope that animates us, the greater also is our capacity to suffer for the love of truth and goodness, joyfully offering up the small and great hardships of everyday life, and making them part of Christ's great 'com-passion'".

  After recalling how the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes are currently being celebrated, the Pope concluded by inviting people "to meditate on the mystery of Mary's participation in the pains of humanity".
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VATICAN CITY, 7 FEB 2008 (VIS) - Benedict XVI has sent a Message to Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha of Mariana, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, for the start yesterday, Ash Wednesday, of the Fraternity Campaign traditionally promoted by the Brazilian Church during Lent. This year the campaign is dedicated to the theme: "Fraternity and defence of life", and its motto is: "Choose, then, life".

  In his Message, the Pope makes it clear that "all threats to life must certainly be resisted", and in this context he refers to his "inaugural address at the Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean" in which "I recalled how the paths being followed by a culture without God and without His commandments, or even against God, lead to 'a culture against human beings and against the good of the Latin American people'".

  The Holy Father also refers to the final document of the Aparecida conference which, he writes, "shows us how meeting Christ is the starting point from which to oppose these paths of death, and to choose life. Just as it is also the starting point for a full recognition of the sacredness of life and the dignity of human beings.

  "In inaugurating this year's Fraternity Campaign", the Pope adds, "I again express the hope that the various institutions of civil society will show their solidarity with the popular will which, in its majority, rejects everything that runs counter to the ethical requirements of justice and of respect for human life, from its beginning to its natural end".

  Benedict XVI concludes by invoking the protection of the Lord, "that His charitable hand may reach over all Brazil, and that new life in Christ may reach all human beings in their personal, family, social and cultural dimensions, spreading its gifts of peace and prosperity, and reawakening in all hearts feeling of fraternity and co-operation".


VATICAN CITY, 7 FEB 2008 (VIS) - This morning, in the Hall of Blessings in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, Benedict XVI celebrated his traditional Lenten meeting with the clergy of the diocese of Rome.
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