The rainbow was the tangible sign of this covenant: “I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you” (Genesis 9:13-15).


2. Today’s readings therefore allow us to consider man and the world in which we live in a new way. Indeed, the world and man not only represent the reality of life as an expression of God’s creative work, but are also images of the covenant. All creation speaks of this covenant.


Down the various ages of history men have continued to commit sins, perhaps even greater than those described before the flood. However, from the words of the covenant God made with Noah we realize that now there is no sin that can bring God to destroy the world he himself created.

Today’s liturgy opens our eyes to a new vision of the world. It helps us to become aware of the world’s value in the eyes of God, who included the whole work of creation in the covenant made with Noah and committed himself to preserving it from destruction.


3. Lent began last Wednesday with the distribution of ashes, and today is the first Sunday in this important season, which is related to the 40-day fast begun by Christ after his baptism in the Jordan. St Mark, who accompanies us in the Sunday liturgy this year, writes in this regard: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness 40 days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him” (Mark 1:12-13).


St Matthew, in the parallel passage, notes only the answer the Lord gave the tempter who challenged him to turn stones into bread: “If you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). Jesus replies: “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Gospel acclamation). This is one of Christ’s three answers to Satan, who sought to ensnare and overcome him by referring to the three concupiscences of fallen human nature.


At the beginning of Lent, Christ’s victory over the devil gives us an indication of how to defeat evil with asceticism, of which fasting is an expression, in order to live this season in a genuine way.


4. Dear brothers and sisters of St Andrew Avellino Parish! I am pleased to be with you today to celebrate the Lord’s Day on this First Sunday of Lent! I greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishop of the area, your zealous parish priest, Fr Giuseppe Grazioli, and all of you who are taking part in this Eucharistic celebration. I extend an affectionate greeting to the pre-school children with their mothers, to the boys and girls who are preparing to receive Confirmation or First Communion, to the young people and to the members of the senior citizens' centre, to the cultural group and the choir, to the editors of the parish bulletin and the Caritas volunteers, to the catechists and to the members of the pastoral council. To all without exception I offer my greetings and my encouragement to live in full communion with the Church and to witness generously to the Gospel.


Dear brothers and sisters, may your parish, which is a significant gathering place in this suburb, always be safe for children and young people, a meeting point for adults and the elderly and a place of listening and sharing for all. This new and functional church, inaugurated and dedicated by the Cardinal Vicar on 20 October last, will not fail to foster participation in liturgical life and will allow each of you an ever greater communion and authentic spiritual solidarity.


5. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). These words of the Evangelist Mark re-echo in our hearts. The Gospel opens with the mission of Jesus, a mission that will be brought to fulfilment in the paschal events. The Church continues this mission in time, a mission to which each of us is called to make his own personal contribution, by proclaiming and bearing witness to Christ, who died and rose for the world’s salvation.


The city mission that will take place in Lent next year at the parish level fits within this context. Today, precisely in preparation for this mission, the distribution of the Gospel officially begins, so that it will reach every family and area of the city. With great joy I have also given your representatives a copy of the Gospel of Mark, disciple and faithful interpreter of the Apostle Peter.


6. St Peter writes in his First Letter: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous ... [in the spirit] he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). Peter’s words refer to the covenant with Noah, mentioned in the first reading. This covenant represents a model, a symbol, a figure of the New Covenant which God made with all humanity in Jesus Christ, through his death on the Cross and his Resurrection. If the Old Covenant primarily concerned creation, the New Covenant, based on Christ’s paschal mystery, is the Covenant of Redemption.


In the text we have heard, the Apostle Peter refers to the sacrament of Baptism. The destructive waters of the flood give way to the sanctifying waters of Baptism. Baptism is the fundamental sacrament in which the Covenant of man’s redemption is realized. Since the origin of Christian tradition, the whole of Lent has been a preparation for Baptism which was administered to catechumens at the solemn Easter Vigil.


Dear brothers and sisters, especially in this Lenten season let us renew our awareness of our Covenant with God. God made a covenant with Noah and included it in the work of creation. Christ, Redeemer of man and of all man, brought the Creator’s work to completion by his Death and Resurrection.


We have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.





Sunday, 16 February 1997



Dear Brothers and Sisters!


1. Repent, and believe in the Gospel(Mark 1:15). These words of Jesus set the tone for the whole of Lent, begun last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday.


The Church has set out for Easter. It is a journey of penitence, or of deep review of our life. We are called to examine our practical acceptance of the Gospel, knowing that even before it offers us a plan of life, it is news, indeed, as the very word “gospel” says, good news.


It is the news that God loves us and in his incarnate Son has shown us his solidarity, redeeming us from sin and death. Thus the Gospel is a message of liberation, joy and fullness of life. But whoever takes this message seriously must also make the commitment to a new life, inspired by Gospel values. It is a question of moving from a superficial life to deep interiority, from selfishness to love, of striving to live according to the model of Christ himself.


2. To help us in this effort, the Church points out to us a path that can be summarized in three words: prayer, fasting, almsgiving.


Prayer can have many expressions, personal and communal. But we must above all live its essence, listening to God who speaks to us, conversing with us as children in a “face to face” dialogue filled with trust and love.


In addition to being an external practice, fasting, which consists in the moderation of food and life-style, is a sincere effort to remove from our hearts all that is the result of sin and inclines us to evil.


Almsgiving, far from being reduced to an occasional offering of money, means assuming an attitude of sharing and acceptance. We only need to “open our eyes” to see beside us so many brothers and sisters who are suffering materially and spiritually. Thus Lent is a forceful invitation to solidarity.


3. Dear brothers and sisters, let us look to Mary in order to draw from her motherly gaze the courage of conversion. She knows our weakness, but she also knows the infinite resources of her divine Son's mercy. May the Blessed Virgin obtain for us the grace of entrusting ourselves to Christ, to continue joyfully on our Lenten journey and to review our life sincerely in the light of the Gospel.



After praying the Angelus the Holy Father said:


I address a cordial greeting to the pilgrims present and I wish everyone a Lent rich in Gospel fruit: mercy, conversion and solidarity with our brothers and sisters.


As is the custom, I will be engaged in Spiritual Exercises with those who work with me in the Roman Curia from this evening until next Saturday. I will be grateful to you, dear brothers and sisters, if you would make a particular mention of us in your prayer this week.



Sunday, 12 March 2000



1. "We implore you, in Christ's name:  be reconciled to God! For our sake God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5: 20-21).


These are words of St Paul which the Church rereads every year on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent. In the Lenten season, the Church desires to be particularly united to Christ, who, moved inwardly by the Holy Spirit, began his messianic mission by going into the wilderness and fasting there for 40 days and 40 nights (cf. Mark 1: 12-13).


At the end of that fast he was tempted by Satan, as we are told briefly by the Evangelist Mark in today's liturgy (cf. 1: 13). Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, deal more amply with Christ's struggle in the desert and with his definitive victory over the tempter:  "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'" (Matthew 4: 10).
The One speaking in this way is he "who did not know sin" (2 Corinthians 5: 21), Jesus, "the Holy One of God" (Mark 1: 24).


2. "He made him who did not know sin to be sin" (2 Corinthians 5: 21). A few moments ago, in the second reading, we heard this surprising assertion made by the Apostle. What do these words mean? They seem, and in effect are, a paradox. How could God, who is holiness itself, "make" his Only-begotten Son, sent into the world, "to be sin"? Yet this is exactly what we read in the passage from St Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. We are in the presence of a mystery:  a mystery which at first sight is baffling, but is clearly written in divine Revelation.


Already in the Old Testament, the Book of Isaiah speaks of it with inspired foresight in the fourth song of the Servant of Yahweh:  "We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all" (Isaiah 53: 6).


Although Christ, the Holy One, was absolutely sinless, he agreed to take our sins upon himself. He agreed in order to redeem us; he agreed to bear our sins to fulfil the mission he had received from the Father, who - as the Evangelist John writes - "so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him ... may have eternal life" (John 3: 16).

3. Before Christ who, out of love, took our guilt upon himself, we are all invited to make a
profound examination of conscience. One of the characteristic elements of the Great Jubilee is what I described as the "purification of memory" (Bull Incarnationis mysterium, n. 11). As the Successor of Peter, I asked that "in this year of mercy the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters" (ibid.). Today, the First Sunday of Lent, seemed to me the right occasion for the Church, gathered spiritually round the Successor of Peter, to implore divine forgiveness for the sins of all believers. Let us forgive and ask forgiveness!


This appeal has prompted a thorough and fruitful reflection, which led to the publication several days ago of a document of the International Theological Commission, entitled:  "Memory and Reconciliation:  The Church and the Faults of the Past". I thank everyone who helped to prepare this text. It is very useful for correctly understanding and carrying out the authentic request for pardon, based on the objective responsibility which Christians share as members of the Mystical Body, and which spurs today's faithful to recognize, along with their own sins, the sins of yesterday's Christians, in the light of careful historical and theological discernment.


Indeed, "because of the bond which unites us to one another in the Mystical Body, all of us, though not personally responsible and without encroaching on the judgement of God who alone knows every heart, bear the burden of the errors and faults of those who have gone before us" (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 11). The recognition of past wrongs serves to reawaken our consciences to the compromises of the present, opening the way to conversion for everyone.

4. Let us forgive and ask forgiveness! While we praise God who, in his merciful love, has produced in the Church a wonderful harvest of holiness, missionary zeal, total dedication to Christ and neighbour, we cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions.


Let us confess, even more, our responsibilities as Christians for the evils of today. We must ask ourselves what our responsibilities are regarding atheism, religious indifference, secularism, ethical relativism, the violations of the right to life, disregard for the poor in many countries.

We humbly ask forgiveness for the part which each of us has had in these evils by our own actions, thus helping to disfigure the face of the Church.


At the same time, as we confess our sins, let us forgive the sins committed by others against us. Countless times in the course of history Christians have suffered hardship, oppression and persecution because of their faith. Just as the victims of such abuses forgave them, so let us forgive as well. The Church today feels and has always felt obliged to purify her memory of those sad events from every feeling of rancour or revenge. In this way the Jubilee becomes for everyone a favourable opportunity for a profound conversion to the Gospel. The acceptance of God's forgiveness leads to the commitment to forgive our brothers and sisters and to be reconciled with them.

5. But what does the word "reconciliation" mean to us? To grasp its precise sense and value, we must first recognize the possibility of division, of separation.
Yes, man is the only creature on earth who can have a relationship of communion with his Creator, but he is also the only one who can separate himself from him. Unfortunately, he has frequently turned away from God.

Fortunately many people, like the prodigal son spoken of in the Gospel of Luke (cf. Luke 15: 13), after leaving their father's house and squandering their inheritance, reach the very bottom and realize how much they have lost (cf. Luke 15: 13-17). Then they set out to return home:  "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned...'" (Luke 15: 18).


God, clearly represented by the father in the parable, welcomes every prodigal child who returns to him. He welcomes him through Christ, in whom the sinner can once again become "righteous" with the righteousness of God. He welcomes him, because for our sake he made his eternal Son to be sin. Yes, only through Christ can we become the righteousness of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 5: 21).

6. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son". Here, in synthesis, is what the mystery of the world's redemption means! We must fully understand the value of the great gift the Father has given us in Jesus. We must keep the eyes of our soul fixed on Christ - the Christ of Gethsemane, Christ scourged, crowned with thorns, carrying the cross and, finally, crucified. Christ took upon himself the burden of the sins of all people, the burden of our own sins, so that through his saving sacrifice we might be reconciled to God.


Today, Saul of Tarsus who became St Paul, stands before us as a witness:  he had an extraordinary experience of the power of the Cross on the way to Damascus. The risen Christ revealed himself to him in all his dazzling power:  ""Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'... "Who are you, Lord?' ... "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'" (Acts 9: 4-5). Today Paul, who had such a powerful experience of the Cross of Christ, addresses a fervent prayer to us:  "We beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain". This grace is offered to us, St Paul insists, by God himself, who tells us today:  "In an acceptable time I have heard you; on a day of salvation I have helped you" (2 Corinthians 6: 1-2).


Mary, Mother of forgiveness, help us to accept the grace of forgiveness which the Jubilee generously offers us. Make the Lent of this extraordinary Holy Year an acceptable time, a time of reconciliation, a time of salvation for all believers and for everyone who is searching for God!



Sunday, 12 March 2000



Dear Brothers and Sisters!


1. In the faith context of the Great Jubilee, today we are celebrating the Day of Pardon. This morning in St Peter's Basilica I presided at a moving and solemn penitential act. On this First Sunday of Lent, Bishops and Ecclesial Communities in various parts of the world knelt before God, in the name of the entire Christian people, to implore his forgiveness.


The Holy Year is a time of purification: the Church is holy because Christ is her Head and her Spouse; the Spirit is her life-giving soul; the Virgin Mary and the saints are her most authentic expression. However, the children of the Church know the experience of sin, whose shadows are cast over her, obscuring her beauty. For this reason the Church does not cease to implore God's forgiveness for the sins of her members.


2. This is not a judgement on the subjective responsibility of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us: judgement belongs to God alone, who - unlike us human beings - "sees the heart and the mind" (cf. Jeremiah 20:12). Today's act is a sincere recognition of the sins committed by the Church's children in the distant and recent past, and a humble plea for God's forgiveness. This will reawaken consciences, enabling Christians to enter the third millennium with greater openness to God and his plan of love.


As we ask forgiveness, let us also forgive. This is what we say every day when we recite the prayer Jesus taught us: "Our Father ... forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" (Matthew 6:12). For all believers may the fruit of this Jubilee Day be forgiveness reciprocally given and received!


Reconciliation springs from forgiveness. This is our hope for every Ecclesial Community, for all believers in Christ and for the whole world.


3. Forgiven and ready to forgive, Christians enter the third millennium as more credible witnesses to hope. After centuries marked by violence and destruction, especially the last tragic one, the Church offers humanity, as it crosses the threshold of the third millennium, the Gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation, a prerequisite for building genuine peace.


To be witnesses to hope! This is also the theme of the Spiritual Exercises which I will begin this evening with my collaborators in the Roman Curia. For now I thank all who wish to accompany me in prayer, and I call upon Our Lady, Mother of Divine Mercy, to help everyone to observe the Lenten season fruitfully.



Sunday, 9 March 2003



 Dear Brothers and Sisters,


1. Last Wednesday, with the rite of the imposition of ashes, we entered Lent, a penitential journey of preparation for Easter, an occasion for all the baptized to renew the spirit of faith and to reinforce their commitment of evangelical consistency.


As today's Gospel suggests (Mark 1:12-15), during the 40 days of Lent, believers are called to follow Christ in the "desert" to confront and with him defeat the spirit of evil. This is an interior struggle, on which the concrete direction of life depends. In fact, it is from the human heart that evil designs and actions arise (cf. Mark 7,21). For this reason, it is only by purifying the conscience that the path to justice and peace can be prepared on the personal and social level.


2. In the present international context, there is a much stronger need to purify the conscience and convert the heart to true peace. In this regard, how much more eloquent is the image of Christ who exposes and overcomes the lies of Satan with the force of truth contained in the Word of God. In the inner heart of every person the voice of God and the insidious voice of the Evil One can be heard. The latter seeks to deceive the human person, seducing him with the prospect of false goods, to lead him away from the real good that consists precisely in fulfilling the divine will. But humble and confident prayer, reinforced by fasting, allows one to overcome even the harshest trials, and instils the necessary courage to combat evil with good. Thus Lent becomes a profitable time of spiritual training.


3. Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary so that she may direct all of us to go forward with generosity on this demanding Lenten journey. In a special way, I would like to entrust to your prayers the Spiritual Exercises that, beginning this evening as every year, I will have the opportunity to undertake with my close collaborators of the Roman Curia. During this week of silence and prayer, I will keep in mind the needs of the Church and the concern of the whole world for peace in Iraq and in the Holy Land.



After the Angelus


Next Saturday evening at 6: 00 p.m., a Marian Prayer Vigil will take place in the Audience Hall of Paul VI on the occasion of the First European Day of University Students on the theme "Intellectual Charity, Soul of the New Europe". I hope the young university students will participate in great numbers. Together let us call upon Mary as "Seat of Wisdom" and entrust to her the hopes and progress of the European continent.



Saint Peter's Square
First Sunday of Lent, 5 March 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,


This past Wednesday we began Lent, and today we are celebrating the first Sunday of this liturgical season that encourages Christians to set out on a path of preparation for Easter.


Today, the Gospel reminds us that Jesus, after being baptized in the River Jordan and impelled by the Holy Spirit who settled upon him and revealed him as the Christ, withdrew for 40 days into the Desert of Judea where he overcame the temptations of Satan (cf. Mark 1: 12-13). Following their Teacher and Lord, Christians also enter the Lenten desert in spirit in order to face with him the "fight against the spirit of evil".


The image of the desert is a very eloquent metaphor of the human condition. The Book of Exodus recounts the experience of the People of Israel who, after leaving Egypt, wandered through the desert of Sinai for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land.


During that long journey, the Jews experienced the full force and persistence of the tempter, who urged them to lose trust in the Lord and to turn back; but at the same time, thanks to Moses' mediation, they learned to listen to God's voice calling them to become his holy People.

In meditating on this biblical passage, we understand that to live life to the full in freedom we must overcome the test that this freedom entails, that is, temptation. Only if he is freed from the slavery of falsehood and sin can the human person, through the obedience of faith that opens him to the truth, find the full meaning of his life and attain peace, love and joy.


For this very reason Lent is a favourable time for a diligent revision of life through recollection, prayer and penance. The Spiritual Exercises, which will begin this evening in accordance with tradition and continue until next Saturday here in the Apostolic Palace, will help me and my collaborators in the Roman Curia to enter with greater awareness into this characteristic Lenten atmosphere.


Dear brothers and sisters, as I ask you to accompany me with your prayers, I assure you of my remembrance to the Lord, so that Lent may be for all Christians an opportunity for conversion and a more courageous effort towards holiness. For this, let us invoke the Virgin Mary's motherly intercession.


After the Angelus: 


Next Saturday, 11 March, at 5 p.m. in the Paul VI Audience Hall, a Marian Vigil will be held, organized by Rome's young university students. Many students in other European countries and in Africa will also be taking part, thanks to radio and television link-ups. It will be a favourable opportunity to pray to the Blessed Virgin that the Gospel will open new ways for cooperation among the peoples of Europe and Africa. Dear young people, I expect many of you!


To all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I extend a warm welcome. In a special way I greet the students from Trondheim Katedralskole in Norway and those from Duquesne University in the United States. As we begin this holy season of Lent, I pray that Almighty God will continue to bless the members of your communities with a vigorous faith and a generous spirit. Upon all of you, I invoke the abundant Blessings of Almighty God.


I wish you all a good Sunday and a good Lent!





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