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Lent 1997

Pope St John Paul II's Message
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Come, O blessed of my Father, for I was homeless and you took me in"

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. The season of Lent recalls the forty years spent by Israel in the desert while on its way to the promised land. During that time the people experienced what it meant to live in tents, without a fixed abode, totally lacking security. How often they were tempted to return to Egypt, where at least there was a supply of bread even though it was the food of slaves. In the insecurity of the desert God himself provided water and food for his people, protecting them from every danger. For the Hebrews the experience of being total dependent on God thus became the path to freedom from slavery and the idolatry of material things.

The Lenten season is meant to help believers, through a commitment to personal purification, to relive this same spiritual journey, by becoming more aware of poverty and of life's uncertainties and by rediscovering the providential presence of the Lord who invites us to open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters in need. In this way Lent also becomes a season of solidarity with individuals and peoples in so many parts of the world who find themselves in very difficult situations.

2. For Lent 1997, the first year of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, I would like to pause and reflect on the tragic situation of the homeless. As a text for meditation I suggest the following words taken from Matthew's Gospel: "Come, O blessed of my Father, for I was homeless and you took me in" (cf. 25:34-35). The home is the place of family communion, where from the love of husband and wife children are born and learn how to live; in the home children learn those fundamental moral and spiritual values which will make them the citizens and Christians of tomorrow. In the home too, the elderly and the sick experience an atmosphere of closeness and affection and support, also in times of suffering and physical decline.

But how many people there are, unfortunately, who have been uprooted from the atmosphere of human warmth and welcome typical of the home! I think of refugees, victims of wars and natural disasters, and those forced to migrate for economic reasons. I also think of families evicted from their homes, those unable to find housing, and the many elderly people whose pensions do not enable them to find a decent and affordable place to live? At time these hardships lead to other tragedies such as alcoholism, violence, prostitution and drug addiction. Last June, while the World Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat II, was meeting in Istanbul, I called attention to these serious problems at the Sunday Angelus. I emphasized their great urgency and recalled once again that the right to housing belongs not only to the individual as such, but also to the family, made up of several individuals. The family, as the basic cell of society, has a full right to housing adequate to its needs, so that it can develop a genuine domestic communion. The Church recognizes this fundamental right and is aware of her obligation to work together with others in order to ensure that it is recognized in practice.

3. Many passages in the Bible highlight the duty to help the homeless.

In the Old Testament, the Torah teaches that strangers and the homeless in general, inasmuch as they are exposed to all sorts of dangers, deserve special concern from the believer. Indeed, God clearly and repeatedly recommends hospitality and generosity towards the stranger (cf. Dt 24:17-18, 10:18-19; Num 15:15; etc.), reminding Israel of how precarious its own existence had once been. Later, Jesus identified himself with the homeless: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Mt 25:35), and taught that charity towards those in this situation will be rewarded in heaven. The Lord's Apostles urge the various communities which they had founded to show hospitality to one another, as a sign of communion and the newness of their life in Christ.

It is from God's own love that Christians learn to help the needy and to share with them their own material and spiritual goods. Such concern not only provides those experiencing hardship with material help but also represents an opportunity for the spiritual growth of the giver, who finds in it an incentive to detachment from worldly goods. But there is a higher motivation which Christ indicated to us by his own example when he said: "The Son of man has no where to lay his head" (Mt 8:20). By these words the Lord wished to show his total openness to his Heavenly Father, whose will he was determined to carry out without letting himself be hindered by the possession of worldly goods: for there is always a danger that earthly realities will take the place of God in the human heart.

Lent is thus a providential opportunity for fostering the spiritual detachment from riches necessary if we are to open ourselves to God. It is He to whom, as Christians, we must direct our entire lives, for we know that in this world we have no fixed abode, since "our commonwealth is in heaven" (Phil 3:20). At the end of Lent, the celebration of the Paschal Mystery shows how the Lenten journey of purification culminates in the free and loving gift of self to the Father. It is by taking this path that Christ's disciples learn how to rise above themselves and their selfish interests in order to encounter in love their brothers and sisters.

4. The Gospel call to be close to Christ who is "homeless" is an invitation to all the baptized to examine their own lives and to treat their brothers and sisters with practical solidarity by sharing their hardships. By openness and generosity, as a community and as individuals, Christians can serve Christ present in the poor, and bear witness to the Father's love. In this journey Christ goes before us. His presence is a source of strength and encouragement: he sets us free and makes us witnesses of Love.

Dear Brothers and Sisters! Let us fearlessly go up with Christ to Jerusalem (cf. Lk 18:31) and accept his invitation to conversion, so that we may cling more fervently to God, the holy and merciful One, especially during the Lenten season of grace. I pray that this Lent will enable all to hear the Lord's plea to open their hearts to all those in need. Invoking Mary's heavenly protection in a special way upon the homeless, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 25 October 1996


Blessed John Paul II's Catechesis on Ash Wednesday
Wednesday, 12 February 1997 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

Repent and believe in the Gospel

"1. Today, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, we begin our journey of preparation for Easter. It is a spiritual journey of prayer and penance, by which Christians let themselves be purified and sanctified by the Lord, who wants them to share in his sufferings and his glory (cf. Rom 8:17).

The Holy Spirit, who led and sustained Christ in the “desert”, leads us into this season of Lent, giving us the necessary grace to resist the seductions of the ancient tempter and to live with renewed commitment in the freedom of God’s children.

In fact, Jesus does not ask for formal observances and mere external change, but for conversion of heart and decisive adherence to the will of his Father and our Father.

In this Lenten season, Jesus calls us to follow him on the way that leads him to Jerusalem to be sacrificed on the Cross. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Of course, this is a demanding and difficult invitation, but it can unleash the creative power of love in those who accept it.

From the first moment of this season of Lent, therefore, our gaze is turned to Christ’s glorious Cross. The author of the Imitation of Christ writes: “In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection from the enemy; in the Cross is the supernatural gift of the sweetness of heaven; in the Cross is strength of mind and joy of spirit; in the Cross virtue is added to virtue and holi- ness is perfected” (XII, 1).

2. “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:14). As we receive ashes on our heads, we listen again today to this passage from the Evangelist Mark. It re- minds us that the salvation offered by Jesus in his paschal mystery requires our response.

Thus the liturgy urges us to give con- crete and visible expression to the gift of conversion of heart, showing to us the way to take and the means to use. At- tentive listening to God’s Word, con- stant prayer, interior and exterior fast- ing, works of charity that concretely ex- press our solidarity with our brothers and sisters: these matters cannot be avoided by those who, reborn to new life in Baptism, no longer intend to live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (cf. Rom 8:4).

I also referred in this year’s Lenten Message to solidarity with our brothers and sisters: Lent “becomes a season of solidarity with individuals and peoples in so many parts of the world who find themselves in very difficult situations” (L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 5 February 1997, p. 1). Among these difficult situations, I gave particular emphasis to the tragic plight of the homeless.

3. This year the Lenten season is part of the three-year journey of immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The first stage of this journey, 1997, is “devoted to reflection on Christ, the Word of God, made man by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 40). During this year we are all invited to a deeper discovery of the person of Christ, the Saviour and Evangelizer, in order to renew our loyalty to him.

Just as the crowds in the Gospel were amazed at the actions and teachings of Jesus, so today humanity will be more easily attracted by Christ and will choose him if they are touched by the witness of Christian faith and charity. Through the work of the Church, the Lord continues to call men and women to follow him.

4. May the Blessed Virgin accompany us on the way of conversion and repentance we have just begun. May her motherly help spur us to overcome all laziness and fear, and to advance with intrepid faith towards Calvary, knowing how to pause lovingly beneath the Cross, in the joyful hope of sharing in the glory of the Lord’s Resurrection."


"Chers frères et soeurs,
J’accueille cordialement les séminaristes de Nancy et les membres de l’Ecole de la Foi de Fribourg, avec les autres pèlerins de langue française. Que Notre-Dame vous aide à avancer sur le chemin de la foi et à répondre aux appels du Seigneur! Et que Dieu vous bénisse!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased to greet the Englishspeaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from Ireland and the United States. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings of grace and peace.

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!
Mit diesen Gedanken grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger sehr herzlich. Ich wünsche Euch, daß Ihr Euch in dieser Fastenzeit wieder neu auf die Suche nach Jesus Christus macht. Dazu erteile ich Euch und Euren Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen mit uns verbundenen Gläubigen den Apostolischen Segen.

Ai belgi

Vi invito a riflettere sul senso della vita, sulla giusta gestione dei beni della terra e sulla qualità dei rapporti umani

Ai pellegrini giunti dal Belgio:

Een hartelijke groet aan de seminaristen en aan alle overige pelgrims afkomstig uit België. Ik nodig u allen uit om in deze periode van voorbereiding op Pasen serieus na te denken over de zin van het leven, het juiste gebruik van de goederen van deze aarde en de kwaliteit van de onderlinge menselijke betrekkingen in de hedendaagse samenleving. Van harte verleen ik u de Apostolische Zegen.

Queridos hermanos y hermanas,
Deseo saludar con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los jóvenes deportistas de Buenos Aires, a los fieles de las diócesis de Lomas de Zamora y de Tenerife, al grupo de pensionistas de Valencia, así como a los numerosos estudiantes venidos desde España, Argentina y Chile. A todos os imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese:

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs
Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa que, por acaso, aqui se encontrem. Que a presença em Roma vos sirva para vivificar a própria fé, continuando a «voltar-vos para Deus, acreditando no Evangelho», como convida a Quaresma, em preparação das festividades pascais. A todos, graça, paz e alegria em Cristo, numa Feliz Páscoa!


Che la vostra presenza a Roma possa vivificare la vostra fede

Ai cechi

La Quaresima è un tempo prezioso di preghiera e di penitenza: non lasciamolo passare invano

Ai fedeli provenienti dalla Repubblica Ceca:

Un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini della Repubblica Ceca. Oggi siamo entrati nella Quaresima, tempo prezioso di preghiera e di penitenza che ci porta alla conversione e all’approfondimento dell’amore verso Dio e verso il prossimo. Non lasciamo passare invano questo tempo di grazie speciali. Dio vi benedica! Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Agli slovacchi

Cordialmente saluto i pellegrini Slovacchi da Dubnica nad Váhom. Fra due giorni celebreremo la festa dei Santi Cirillo e Metodio, Patroni d’Europa e apostoli dei popoli Slavi. Millecentotrent’anni fa essi sono venuti a Roma per visitare il Successore di Pietro. Seguendo le loro orme anche voi siete venuti a Roma. Che questo pellegrinaggio vi rafforzi nella fede, la quale essi hanno annunziato ai vostri antenati. E io per ciò vi imparto la mia Benedizione apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana:

Nel salutare ora tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, rivolgo un cordiale pensiero al gruppo di ufficiali, sottufficiali ed allievi della scuola di artiglieria controaerei di Sabaudia, come pure agli allievi sottufficiali della marina militare di Taranto. Saluto anche il gruppo dell’Associazione «Mogli dei Medici Italiani» ed i membri del Club «Leontine De Nittis » di Barletta. Carissimi, vi ringrazio per la vostra partecipazione, ed auspico di cuore che questo incontro valga a rafforzare i vostri propositi di coerente testimonianza cristiana.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli

Vi esorto a tradurre nella esistenza quotidiana gli stessi sentimenti di Cristo

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli:

Porgo infine un particolare saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli.

Confido che il tempo quaresimale, che proprio oggi iniziamo, conduca ciascuno di voi ad una sempre maggiore vicinanza a Cristo e ad una sua più fedele imitazione. Vi esorto, dunque, cari fratelli e sorelle, a tradurre nella vostra esistenza secondo le diverse situazioni in cui vi trovate, gli stessi sentimenti di Cristo. Troverete esempio e conforto nel mistero di Dio che per amore dona il proprio Figlio per la salvezza di tutti gli uomini.

Maria, di cui ieri abbiamo fatto speciale memoria, vi accompagni in questo itinerario di interiore conversione, ottenendo per ognuno le grazie necessarie per restare fedeli alla propria vocazione.

A tutti la mia Benedizione."


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