Today, the Vatican released the text of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for lent 2006. In it, he focuses his attention on the scourge of global underdevelopment and exhorts faithful to give the gift of themselves in solidarity with the poor and true imitation of Christ.
The text is dated September 29th, 2005, and takes its title from the Gospel of Mark: "Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity."
At the outset of the message, the Holy Father affirmed that "Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Him Who is the fount of mercy. It is a pilgrimage in which He Himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty, sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter.”
The Pope assured that, in a world which in some ways grows darker every day and “even in the desolation of misery, loneliness, violence and hunger that indiscriminately afflict children, adults, and the elderly, God does not allow darkness to prevail.”
“Even today”, he said, “the Lord hears the cry of the multitudes longing for joy, peace, and love. As in every age, they feel abandoned.”
He cited his predecessor, the late John Paul II, who said that “there is a 'divine limit imposed upon evil,' namely, mercy,” saying that this idea helped prompt his chosen theme.
Benedict then turned to his major theme: the much-debated question of development. He said that the Church, enlightened by the Paschal truth, “knows that if we are to promote development in its fullness, our own 'gaze' upon mankind has to be measured against that of Christ.”
“…It is quite impossible”, he stressed, “to separate the response to people's material and social needs from the fulfillment of the profound desires of their hearts.”
“This”, he said, “has to be emphasized all the more in today's rapidly changing world, in which our responsibility towards the poor emerges with ever greater clarity and urgency.”
Here, he cited Pope Paul VI, who called the “scandal of underdevelopment…an outrage against humanity.”
"As the antidote to such evil,” he said, “Paul VI suggested not only 'increased esteem for the dignity of others, the turning towards the spirit of poverty, cooperation for the common good, the will and desire for peace,' but also 'the acknowledgement by man of supreme values, and of God, their source and their finality.'“
"In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world's population, indifference and self-centered isolation stand in stark contrast to the 'gaze' of Christ.
In what was perhaps the heart of his message, Pope Benedict said that “the primary contribution that the Church offers to the development of mankind and peoples does not consist merely in material means or technical solutions. Rather, it involves the proclamation of the truth of Christ, Who educates consciences and teaches the authentic dignity of the person and of work; it means the promotion of a culture that truly responds to all the questions of humanity.”
Through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, he said that “the Church proposes in a special way during the Lenten Season…suitable means for us to become conformed to this 'gaze.'“
The Pope likewise pointed to the “examples of the saints and the long history of the Church's missionary activity provide invaluable indications of the most effective ways to support development.”
Pope Benedict exhorted faithful to live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, pointing out that there is a potential for disintegration of charity in the current culture.
He said that charitable, social actions, “have to include a recognition of the central role of authentic religious values in responding to man's deepest concerns, and in supplying the ethical motivation for his personal and social responsibilities.”
“These are the criteria”, he said, “by which Christians should assess the political programs of their leaders.”
“Very often,” the Pope pointed out, “when having to address grave problems, they have thought that they should first improve this world and only afterwards turn their minds to the next. The temptation was to believe that, in the face of urgent needs, the first imperative was to change external structures. The consequence, for some, was that Christianity became a kind of moralism, 'believing' was replaced with 'doing.'“
He again turned to the words of John Paul II, who said that “The temptation today is to reduce Christianity to merely human wisdom, a pseudo-science of well-being. In our heavily secularized world, a gradual secularization of salvation has taken place, so that people strive for the good of man, but man who is truncated...We know, however, that Jesus came to bring integral salvation.”
"It is this integral salvation”, Benedict wrote, “that Lent puts before us, pointing towards
the victory of Christ over every evil that oppresses us.”
Ultimately, the Pope told faithful that in an era of widespread poverty as well as unprecedented global interdependence, “it is clear that no economic, social, or political project can replace that gift of self to another through which charity is expressed.”