Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the beginning of her Lenten journey towards Easter. The entire Christian community is invited to live this period of forty days as a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal.
In the Bible, the number forty is rich in symbolism. It recalls Israel’s journey in the desert, a time of expectation, purification and closeness to the Lord, but also a time of temptation and testing. It also evokes Jesus’ own sojourn in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, a time of profound closeness to the Father in prayer, but also of confrontation with the mystery of evil.
The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery.
In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism. For the whole Church may this Lent be a time of grace in which God leads us, in union with the crucified and risen Lord, through the experience of the desert to the joy and hope brought by Easter.
I greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Belgium, Norway, Canada and the United States. I offer a special welcome to the faithful of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on the occasion of their pilgrimage to the See of Peter. I greet the pilgrim group from the Diocese of Antwerp, and I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. With prayerful good wishes for a spiritually fruitful Lent, I invoke upon all of you God’s abundant blessings!