Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Ash Wednesday to mark the start of the Catholic Church's period of Lent. He said the Christian response to the violence that threatens peace in the world should not be revenge but opposing hatred with love.
Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his first Ash Wednesday mass, which is traditionally held in the Basilica of Saint Sabina on Rome's Aventine Hill. The mass marks the start the Catholic Church's 40-day period of Lent, which culminates with Easter.
Dressed in purple vestments, the pope placed ashes on the heads of cardinals, bishops and ordinary Catholics. The gesture symbolizes mortality.
In his homily, the pope said the Christian response to threats against peace in the world must not be revenge, hate or escape to false spiritualism but effort to oppose evil with good, lies with truth and hatred with love.
The pope also said love must then be translated into concrete action towards others, in particular towards the poor and needy. Pope Benedict denounced indifference and selfishness in the face of the terrible challenges of poverty afflicting a large part of humanity.
Earlier, addressing thousands in Saint Peter's Square for the general audience, the pope said Lent is a time of sincere sharing. He said that fasting and almsgiving, along with prayer, create the proper spirit to enter into the austere and prayerful climate of Lent.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of a busy season for the pope, which will culminate with Holy Week, the seven days that begin with Palm Sunday and end with Easter Sunday on April 16.