Benedict XVI, Spain, Malta, Belgium, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg

Benedict XVI: changing “direction””Conversion” is a word “that must be considered in its extraordinary seriousness”, the call to conversion, in fact, exposes and denounces the easy superficiality that often characterizes our life”. Said Benedict XVI, who dedicated the catechesis of the general audience of February 17, Ash Wednesday, to the beginning of Lent. “Conversion means to change direction in the path of our life: not, however, a small adjustment, but a real turnaround”. In other words, “conversion is to swim against a current of lifestyle”, that is “superficial, incoherent and illusory, a current that often drag us down, dominates us and makes us slaves of evil or at least prisoners of moral mediocrity”. The call of the Holy Father was put into practice across all European Churches with initiatives promoted by the local churches, movements and ecclesial congregations.Spain: returning to God losing no time Living Lent in a moment of crisis: “in this painful Lenten period, marked by the suffering caused by the ongoing social and economic crisis of many known and unknown families – all of them dear to us -, the traditional call to conversion becomes all the more important and urgent. No time must be lost in the recovery of the law and grace of God that is close, accessible and bringer of love in Jesus Christ”, said the archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela. The period of Lent 2010, the archbishop said, “immersed in the preparations for the World Youth Day 2011 and in the pastoral care of the family, must be lived together by all the members of the diocesan Church as the family of God, as His offspring, jointly committed in overcoming widespread materialistic humanism, which in order to exclude God, foredooms all good intentions to overcome the critical moment currently experienced by individuals and societies as a whole to failure”. “This humanism – the prelate added – since it is inhuman, as proclaimed by Benedict XVI, is unable to free mankind from the bonds of egocentrism”. Only “the love of God – he concluded – invites us to break free from our limits and from non-definitive realities, and gives us the courage to bring forth our commitments in the quest of the common good”.Malta: preparing for the Pope’s visit Msgr. Paul Cremona, archbishop of Malta, and Msgr. Mario Grech, bishop of Gozo, issued a pastoral letter to the faithful on the significance of the Lenten period. “This is God whom Lent presents to us every year: He is God who accompanies us to teach us and build us up. God who makes himself present in the concrete circumstances we live in, even if these are bad or painful. He is God who helps every person, walks along its path so that gradually, one step after another, it can move out of life’s desert”. “God leads us to become whole men, alien to sin and tied to his will. First and foremost, He speaks to the heart”. “The Lenten talks, the reading of the Word of God proposed by the Liturgy, retreats, prayer accompanied by fasting and charity, are all great moments where we can receive the Word that forms us so that we can then renew our environments: the family, places of work, public institutions and ecclesial communities. We wish that this year Lent will be a time of grace not only for us to take part in the Easter of Christ, but also to prepare ourselves for His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI’s visit”, concluded the bishops, referring to the Pope’s presence on the island April 17-18 in memory of the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck.Belgium: online prayerOnline prayer: it is one of the many invitations addressed to Belgium’s ecclesial community by associations, religious institutions, and dioceses across the Country for Lent. The Dominican fathers presented the proposal of a Lenten retreat in the city, to be held online (www.retraitedanslaville.org). It is addressed “to all those yearning for spirituality in their daily lives”. The retreat began February 17, Ash Wednesday, and is due to end on Easter Sunday (April 4). Last year over 27 thousand people registered for the retreat. In the same period, the association “Entraide et Fraternité” will conduct initiatives to raise public awareness on the condition of women farmers living in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and on their right to have a dignified life. “A Lenten period of sharing – is stated in a note of the Association – helps us renew our faith. It is the privileged moment to return to the roots of our lives. Sharing with the most disadvantaged people on earth is another way to promote development, education, and to spread information on the role of woman farmers in rural areas”. The purpose of the Association’s fund-raising campaign for Lent is to collect 1.5 million euro for solidarity projects in the Region. In order to pursue this objective the organization developed an animation program, a series of conferences and activities to be carried out across dioceses, parishes, schools, movements and groups, attended also by the population of the Great Lakes. France: sharing riches Fund-raising for Developing Countries, chains of prayer, family meetings for mutual exchange are just a few of the many initiatives implemented by dioceses and ecclesial centers across France for Lent 2010. For the movement “Terre solidaire”, the period leading to Easter will be “an immense celebration for the sharing of riches”. For this reason, from February 17 to March 30 “Terre solidaire” promotes a path of “fasting, prayer and sharing” which encompasses a series of initiatives. Among these figures “Bouge ta planète” due to be held in Paris (March 10-30), during which over 40 associations working in Developing Countries will share their experiences in favor of fair and equal development. Notably, the meeting of the Catholic Committee against hunger and for development (CCFD) will bring together on March 20 30 thousand young people who will animate Paris’ streets with over 375 initiatives in support of South Africa. While from the families of the diocese of Dijon promote a chain prayer, due to be held Feb.17 – March 27 whereby every family unit is committed to pray for another person, a sort of ongoing intercession prayer. “Les Equipes Notre-Dame” promotes the family spiritual retreat in Massabielle March 27-18, that will focus on how to live the Holy Week in the family. Italy: renewed interiority “Return to me with all your heart”: the theme of the liturgical and pastoral publication of the Italian Bishops’ Conference for the period of Lent-Easter 2010 is drawn from a chapter of Prophet Joel. It is available in Catholic bookshops and on the website of the national Liturgical Office (www.chiesacattolica.it/liturgia). The document provides an itinerary through Lenten Sundays, the Holy Week, leading to the Ascension and Pentecost, illustrating the relevant passages (Proclaiming), providing an explanation of the symbols, like ash, water, fire (Celebrating) and delving into social themes through the account of faith witnesses (Bearing witness). The document includes proposals of community-Lectio Divina and a Via Crucis. “The document – writes Msgr. Mariano Crociata, CEI secretary general, in the introduction – takes the Word of God proclaimed and received in the liturgy as the point of departure, and thus provides indications and insights in communicating the fundamental dimension of the Word, promoting the recovery of a renewed interiority, a sincere and convinced proclamation. Lent is the period for the conversion of the heart, the favorable occasion to recover one’s identity. Easter is the time of the joy of the Resurrection, which cannot be confined inside the cenacle. Indeed, it welcomes the joyful proclamation: Christ was resurrected!”.Austria, Germany, Luxembourg: leaving the car in the garage Also this year, Christian churches across Luxembourg and South-West Germany invite the faithful to take part in the initiative “Autofasten”, “car-fasting”, on the occasion of Lent. From February 28 to March 28 those wishing to take part in the Lenten initiative can leave their car at home and travel with environmental-friendly transportation: bicycles, the buses, trains, or choose to simply go on foot. Those who cannot do without the car can opt for car-pooling or car-sharing. Information on the initiative can be found on the website, where registration is possible until February 22. “We want to counter climate change and we must do something about it”, said Hans-Gerd Wirtz from the Environment Commission of the diocese of Treviri, taking part in the initiative for the thirteenth time. Also the dioceses of Aachen and Spira, along with the archdiocese of Luxembourg and the diocese of Treviri, are involved in the initiative which enjoys the support of several regional administrative authorities and associations. “Car-fasting” during Lent is also being carried out across Austria. The Catholic and Evangelical Church of Upper Austria called upon the faithful to refrain from taking the car in the period February 17-April 3, with online registration at: www.autofasten.at.Germany: artists, young people, not only Christians Along with the long-established “car-fasting” initiative, Germany has promoted Ash Wednesday for Artists, a traditional encounter dedicated to them. On February 17 in Bavaria the archbishop of Munich and Freising Msgr. Reinhard Marx presided over the Mass co-celebrated with the coordinators of the pastoral care of the artists father Georg Maria Roers and father Rainer Hepler in the dome of Munich. The 55th edition of the initiative was marked by artistic expressions in music, reading and prayers, to the presence of the archbishop and of the Bavaria’s Minister for Science and Art Wolfgang Heubisch. Various Lenten initiatives in Germany are being organized by the youth: in Erfurt, in ex-Eastern Germany, every Friday the youth will animate the staging of the Passion at the Domberg. The Via Crucis was organized in such a way as to allow attendants to physically move along the Stations of the Cross. The Via Crucis organized by the youth consists of eight scenes, with a prologue and an epilogue. The initiative is not meant for Christian faithful only. “We don’t want to stage the Passion of the Christ from a historical perspective. We wish to point out its significance for contemporary society”, said Sister Ulrike Harnisch, one of the authors of the initiative.

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