VATICAN CITY, JAN. 27, 2005 ( John Paul II in his Message for Lent exhorted the faithful to express their affection and respect for the elderly, in the face of proposals to introduce euthanasia.

The Pope's proposal is at the heart of his message, published today by the Holy See, for the 40-day liturgical period leading into Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 9.

In the text, whose title is a phrase from the Book of Deuteronomy "Loving the Lord ... Means Life to You, and Length of Days," the Holy Father expresses the hope that this Lent will help "to deepen the awareness of the role that the elderly are called to play in society and in the Church."

"The care of the elderly, above all when they pass through difficult moments, must be of great concern to all the faithful, especially in the ecclesial communities of Western societies, where the problem is particularly present," said the 84-year-old Pope.

The commandment "You shall not kill" "applies even in the presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces the person's ability to be self-reliant," he said.

"It is necessary to raise the awareness in public opinion that the elderly represent, in any case, a resource to be valued," the Holy Father added.

Therefore, the papal message appeals for "economic support and legislative initiatives, which allow them [the elderly] not to be excluded from social life."

John Paul II believes that the elderly can carry out their role in society, as their "wisdom" and "experience" can "illuminate" the path "toward an ever more complete form of civilization."

"What would happen if the People of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers" the elderly "as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness?" he asked.

The Holy Father's message was presented to the press in the Vatican by Archbishop Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum," and by Bishop André-Mutien Léonard of Namur, Belgium.