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Message for Lent encourages Catholics to care for those affected by pandemic

Lenten Time: A man receives ashes on Ash Wednesday at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York in 2014. This year the Vatican has instructed priests to distribute ashes by silently sprinkling them on people’s heads due to the pandemic. In his message for Lent, Pope Francis said the season is “a time for renewing faith, hope and love.” CNS photo

Pope Francis has used his message for Lent 2021 to called on Catholics to “experience Lent with Love” by extending the hand of charity to those affected by coronavirus.

“To experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Francis wrote in the message published ahead of the liturgical season of Lent that starts with Ash Wednesday on February 17.

“In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to his Servant, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you’ (Isaiah 43:1).

“In our charity, may we speak words of reassurance and help others to realize that God loves them as sons and daughters.”

The Pontiff emphasised that even a small amount of almsgiving when offered with “joy and simplicity” can multiply, as did “the loaves blessed, broken and given by Jesus to the disciples to distribute to the crowd.”

“Love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness,” he said.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican in March last year. CNS photo

The pope’s Lenten message addresses the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

On Ash Wednesday the Vatican has instructed priests to distribute ashes by silently sprinkling them on people’s heads this year due to the pandemic.

In his message, Pope Francis said that the virtue of hope is particularly important as the world continues to grapple with the effects of the pandemic.

“In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope,” he said.

“Yet Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for his creation which we have often mistreated.

“Saint Paul urges us to place our hope in reconciliation: ‘Be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

“By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others.”

The pope said it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be “willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference”. 

“In Lent, may we be increasingly concerned with speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn,” he said.

He added: “Through recollection and silent prayer, hope is given to us as inspiration and interior light, illuminating the challenges and choices we face in our mission. Hence the need to pray (cf. Matthew 6:6) and, in secret, to encounter the Father of tender love.”

“To experience Lent in hope entails growing in the realization that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of new times, in which God is ‘making all things new’ (cf. Revelation 21:1-6).

Pope Francis wrote in his Lenten message that fasting, prayer, and almsgiving “enable and express our conversion.”

“The path of poverty and self-denial (fasting), concern and loving care for the poor (almsgiving), and childlike dialogue with the Father (prayer) make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity,” he wrote.

These traditional Lenten practices “revive the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit and the love flowing from the merciful heart of the Father,” Francis said.

“May Mary, Mother of the Saviour, ever faithful at the foot of the cross and in the heart of the Church, sustain us with her loving presence. May the blessing of the risen Lord accompany all of us on our journey towards the light of Easter.”

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