A Call for Conversion Marks Ash Wednesday

Pope Cites «Irresponsible Egoism» That Leads to Tragedies

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ROME, FEB. 13, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Noting the divisions and hatred that wrack humanity, John Paul II called for conversion of hearts as he himself received the distinctive mark of Ash Wednesday.

«We have before our eyes and imprinted in our mind, images of sufferings and terrible tragedies, often the fruit of irresponsible egoism,» the Pope said during his homily at an evening liturgical celebration in the Basilica of St. Sabina.

«We must return to him who opens the door of his heart, rich in goodness and mercy,» he said.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, which leads up to the Easter Triduum. Easter falls on March 31 this year.

Today´s ceremony was presided over by Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and titular bishop of this fifth-century basilica, which is near the Circus Maximus. The Slovak cardinal himself placed ashes on the Holy Father.

«We feel the weight of the bewilderment of many men and women in face of the suffering of the innocent and the clashes of humanity today,» the Pontiff said in his homily. «We feel the need of the Lord´s help to recover confidence and joy in life.»

«May the time of Lent be for everyone a renewed experience of conversion and profound reconciliation with God, with ourselves, and with our brothers,» the Pope stressed.

In keeping with tradition, the rite was preceded by a moment of prayer, in the nearby Church of St. Anselm, next to the International Benedictine Seminary. The participants then processed to the Basilica of St. Sabina.

A number of Dominican religious were on hand. Their founder, St. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221), was entrusted with the basilica by Pope Honorius II. The saint had the cloister and adjacent monastery built.

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