Pope Reflects on Lent as Time of Conversion

Looks Ahead to Ash Wednesday

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Lent, the liturgical period that prepares for Easter, is above all a time of conversion, says John Paul II.



The Pope explained this from the window of his study to several thousand pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square at midday to pray the Angelus.

"Lent, which we will begin next Wednesday with the austere and significant rite of the imposition of ashes, is a privileged time to intensify this commitment to conversion to Christ," he said.

"The Lenten period will thus become a propitious occasion to examine ourselves with sincerity and truth, to put order in our lives and in our relations with others and with God," the Holy Father added.

John Paul II said he hopes that Christ's exhortation, "Repent and believe in the Gospel," will accompany Christians "during the next weeks until the paschal celebrations."

The Pope's Message for Lent 2004 is an appeal to Christians to manifest this interior conversion with gestures of help in favor of needy children.

Given the many abuses suffered by minors -- prostitution, drugs, illegal work, wars -- and the health hazards to which they are exposed, such as AIDS, in his message the Holy Father says that "humanity cannot close its eyes in the face of so appalling a tragedy."

"May this Lent be a time of ever greater concern for the needs of children, in our own families and in society as a whole: for they are the future of humanity," the papal Lenten messages states.