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Pope Marks Ash Wednesday With Plea for Prayer, Sacrifice

Pope Benedict XVI has urged the world's Roman Catholics to practice prayer, fasting and penance, as he marked the start of the solemn season of Lent.

The pontiff told worshippers that prayer was a means of combating loneliness and alienation. He said prayer nourishes hope, "even in the solitude of the most difficult trials."

Benedict then celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at the fifth-century basilica of Santa Sabina on Aventine Hill.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the 40-day period of personal sacrifice that leads to Good Friday, when the faithful mark the crucifixion of Christ. Three days later, Christians celebrate Easter - the day they believe Christ rose from the dead.

Easter Sunday falls on March 23 this year.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.