February 14, 2018 / 5:55 PM / 6 months ago

Opening Lent, pope urges people to slow down, rediscover power of silence

ROME, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Pope Francis, leading Catholics into the season of Lent, urged people on Wednesday to slow down amid the noise, haste and desire for instant gratification in a high-tech world to rediscover the power of silence.

On Ash Wednesday devout Christians in churches around the world have ashes rubbed onto their heads in a ritual reminding them of their mortality as a priest recites the biblically inspired phrase, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

On Wednesday, a cardinal rubbed ashes on the pope’s forehead and then Francis did the same to other members of the congregation at a Mass in the Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill.

“Pause a little, leave behind the unrest and commotion that fill the soul with bitter feelings which never get us anywhere,” he said in his homily.

“Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift...time with God,” he said.

During Lent, which ends on Easter, Christians are urged to occasionally fast from food, give up something they enjoy as a sign of humility, carry out extra acts of charity and reflect on how they can improve themselves.

Francis, who led a procession along the streets of Aventine Hill before saying the Mass, urged his listeners to beware “the emptiness of everything that is instantaneous, momentary and fleeting” and not forget tenderness and compassion.

“Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence,” he said.

Francis has invited Roman Catholics and members of all other religions on Sunday to observe a day of prayer, fasting and initiatives for peace on Feb. 23, urging everyone to “say no” to violence and conflict.

When he announced the initiative, he said was making the appeal because of the “tragic protraction” of conflicts around the world, particularly in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Francis specifically invited non-Catholics and non-Christians to join the initiative in any way they saw fit, “but all together”. (Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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