|Vatican||POPE JOHN PAUL MARKS ASH WEDNESDAY|
Pope John Paul II, marking Ash Wednesday, urged that gestures of solidarity to victims of hunger, violence and injustice accompany traditional Lenten fasting and other personal sacrifices.
In his weekly public audience, John Paul said that the sacrifices, in preparation for Easter, Christianity's most important feast day, would help the faithful ``gain a greater interior freedom, making one more open to hearing God's word and to the generous aiding of brothers in need.''
``Abstinence and fasting must be accompanied by gestures of solidarity toward those suffering and going through difficult moments,'' the pope said, urging people to concretely come to the aid of ``the needy, victims of hunger, violence and injustice.'' The pope was scheduled this afternoon to lead an Ash Wednesday service in Santa Sabina Basilica on the Aventine, one of ancient Rome's seven hills.
Keeping to custom, the pope was expected to put a smudge of symbolic ash on the heads of others at the ceremony. The ashes for believers are a reminder of mortality. Many Catholics fast, give up eating meat and renounce pleasurable habits such as nibbling on sweets during Lent.