VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II opened the penitential season of Lent on Wednesday with a call to Christians to help millions of people around the world who are "sick, dispossessed, exiled, isolated and deprived of all help."
"Charity rids us of our selfishness," the Pope said in an Ash Wednesday message he issued to mark the start of the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter. "It breaks down the walls of our isolation, it opens our eyes to our neighbor, to those more distant from us and to the whole of humanity."
Noting daily media reports on "desperate appeals of millions of our less fortunate brethren," the Pope said:
"How can we remain indifferent before those children with their despairing faces and skeleton-like bodies? Can our Christian consciences remain uncaring in the midst of this world full of suffering? Does the parable of the Good Samaritan still have something to say to us?"
He said Christians should be guided by the law of charity in the Gospel, "so well defined by the words and the constant example of Christ, the Good Samaritan.
"Charity does not hesitate, for it is the expression of our faith," the Pope said. "So open your hands wide and share with all those who are your neighbors."