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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. For months the international community has been living in great apprehension because of the danger of a war that might disturb the whole of the Middle East region and exacerbate the tensions that, unfortunately, are already present at the beginning of the millennium. It is a duty for believers, regardless of the religion to which they belong, to proclaim that we will never be able to be happy if we are against one another; the future of humanity will never be able to be assured by terrorism and the logic of war.
We Christians, in particular, are called to be like guardians of peace in the places where we live and work. We are asked, that is, to be alert, so that consciences will not yield to the temptation to egoism, falsehood and violence.
2. Therefore, I invite all Catholics to dedicate with special intensity next March 5, Ash Wednesday, to prayer and fasting for the cause of peace, especially in the Middle East.
Above all, let us implore God for the conversion of hearts and a generous view in just decisions to resolve with adequate and peaceful means the contests that hamper the pilgrimage of humanity in our time.
In every Marian shrine an ardent prayer for peace will be raised to heaven with the praying of the holy rosary. I trust that also in parishes and families the rosary will be prayed for this great cause on which the good of all depends.
This common invocation will be accompanied by fasting, expression of penance for the hatred and violence that contaminate human relations. Christians share the ancient practice of fasting with many brothers and sisters of other religions, who in this way want to be despoiled of all pride and dispose themselves to receive from God the greatest and most necessary gifts, among which, in particular, is that of peace.
3. From now on, we invoke for this initiative, which is placed at the beginning of Lent, the special assistance of Mary Most Holy, Queen of Peace. Through her intercession, may the evangelical beatitude "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9) resonate with a new force in the world and find concrete acceptance!
[After greeting the pilgrims in Italian, the Holy Father concluded]
I also greet the Italian members of the Ingrid Betancourt Pro-Peace Association, hoping that all persons kidnapped in Colombia will soon be released.
[Translation by ZENIT]