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Pope Francis has told Catholics to stay alert to poverty during Lent, warning that Christians risk becoming numbed to violence and suffering.
He told pilgrims at his General Audience on Ash Wednesday that Lent was a “providential” invitation to react to hardship in their communities.
“Fully living out our baptism … means not becoming inured to the situations of degradation and poverty that we encounter when walking the streets of our cities and towns,” he said.
Catholics should “marvel” at the sad realities of poverty rather than passively accepting them, he added.
“We grow accustomed to violence, as if it were a normal part of our daily news; we get used to seeing our brothers and sisters sleeping in the streets, as they have no roof to shelter them. We are used to refugees who search of freedom and dignity, but are not received as they should be.”
Living without God and getting in the habit of behaviour that was not Christian “anaesthetises” the heart, he said.
The Pope also chose to make poverty the dominant theme of his message for Lent. In a strident message he warned that social injustices lead to moral “suicide”.
In the message, which was released last month, he urged Christians to recognise Christ “in the poor and the outcast” and to confront material poverty. This was the best way to respond to Christ’s invitation to poverty in the Gospels, he added.
“In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it,” he said.
In addition to material destitution, the Pope warned against moral and spiritual destitution, including addiction to alcohol, drugs and gambling, which he said was often caused by social injustice and unemployment.
He said that access to education and proper health care were essential for human dignity, but that the Gospel was the real “antidote” to spiritual destitution.
“How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide,” he said.