Cardinal Czerny: In Lent the change of the world begins with us

“We find here the main themes of the encyclicals Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti” and each Christian community can live the period of Lent, “accompanying all its members to the heart of the challenges of our time”

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

“Through the Desert God Leads Us to Freedom,” this is the title of Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2024, presented on Thursday morning in the Holy See Press Office.

Speaking at the presentation were Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; Emilia Palladino, a physics professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University; Fr. Andrea Cavallini, who is involved in the formation of catechists and catechetical pathways in the diocese of Rome; and, artist Mauro Pallotta, known as Maupal.

Czerny: integral ecology and fraternity in the Message

It is “a message of freedom and for freedom,” Cardinal Czerny began. “At a time when many, too many, difficulties weigh enormously on each of us, the Gospel opens a way in the desert and announces to us that our slavery is already over. Ours is a journey of faith, he continues, “on which the possibility of hope depends.” And “to hope means both trusting in God and looking forward in history.”

The Cardinal Prefect quotes the Pope, who notes in the Message, “Even today the cry of so many oppressed brothers and sisters reaches heaven. Let us ask ourselves: does it reach us too? Does it shake us? Does it move us?” and states that while traditionally Lent is a time for personal conversion, “nevertheless, fraternity is the best and surest horizon for better understanding ourselves and our vocation as faithful and as citizens.”

Czerny emphasizes the presence in the Pope’s text of the main themes contained in the encyclicals Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti and comments, “Here we see the pastoral paradigms of integral ecology, fraternity, and social friendship reshaping evangelization, not because the Gospel changes, but because the Good News must be received in this broken world.”

The task of every Christian community in the Lenten season is to accompany “all its members to the heart of the challenges of our time.”

“The changes hoped for in the world begin with the change in each of us,” the prefect concluded, reminding us that “life and faith are intimately united,” that we are already on a journey but must choose to move forward, and that this is precisely the focus of Pope Francis’ Message for this Lent.

Cavallini: God works for our freedom

For Fr. Andrea Cavallini, Lent does not ask us every year to be better or to pray a little more or to give a little more alms; it asks us to be Christians, or rather, to re-be Christians.

His key word is indeed “conversion,” he says. “Every year the Papal Messages deepen one aspect of Lent, that is, one aspect of conversion: this year the beautiful theme of freedom, which is, indeed, a radical theme.”

The first place of lack of freedom is the human heart, and, he continues, “I am reminded of the wonderful image Plato uses in the Republic: men are like prisoners in a cave, convinced that there is only what they see inside the cave, unaware of the existence of an outside world. Unless there is someone who breaks free and discovers for them another world and tells them about it, they do not even suspect that they are prisoners.”

The good news, continues Fr. Cavallini, is that God is working for our liberation. He then returns to the meaning of Lent to say that an act of freedom is also to ask whether it still makes sense, whether it is relevant, and whether it still interests anyone.

Pope St. Paul VI had done this in 1965, noting that people of his time had difficulty understanding it. For Fr. Cavallini, the answer is that “only if Lent really puts us in touch with the radical issues of life, such as freedom and slavery, and only if it rekindles in us the desire for a better life, then it makes sense to live it and to propose it.”

Palladino: the danger that “the Exodus may be interrupted”

Going into the concrete reality of today’s world is the intervention of Professor Emilia Palladino who says of Pope Francis’ Message, “it reflects the desire to move from a context of slavery to a context of freedom.”

She adds, “We have to admit that it is true. It almost seems better to live inside a known prison, indoors, stationary, than outside, in the open air, where there are changes to be faced and the demand for a certain courage to evolve and to work” toward authentic integral development.

The danger warned by Pope Francis that “the Exodus may be interrupted” is real. And he cites some data showing the growth of inequalities present today: “According to the World Health Organization, in 2023, three out of ten people will lack access to essential health services, and an estimated two billion people will have to starve to meet expenses related to medical care and medicines; according to the International Labor Office, as of 2023, there are still 152 million children and adolescents who are victims of child labor; according to a United Nations report, in 2021, 28 million people are forced into forced labor and 22 million into forced marriage; not to mention the human trafficking that we hear about almost daily.”

In this context, Palladino continues, the danger is not even doing what would be possible for us.

“This Lent, then, can also be a ‘social conversion’ if, in seeing reality as it is, we can act by stopping and modifying what little we can, catching our breath and hope.”

If we accept to think, as the Pope says, that “we are not in agony, but in childbirth,” then, he concludes, we can “welcome the suggestions for change contained in this Message and thus allow hope, however small, to start walking again.”

Maupal: simple pictorial language for profound concepts

The pride and honor of being able to represent through his art the Pope’s words for the upcoming Lenten journey, in the first words of Mauro Pallotta, “Maupal,” an artist known for his murals dedicated to Pope Francis around the Vatican, whose works have since spread to different parts of the world, and now engaged in some projects inside prisons.

In his speech concluding the press conference he says, “I have tried to synthesize the profound concepts expressed by the Holy Father through a pictorial language with a simple, easily readable style, with the hope of never having debased them or made them superficial or trivial.”

He then describes his first illustration used for the poster presenting the Message and accompanying its title, Through the Desert God Leads Us to Freedom.

“I depicted the desert using the image of Pope Francis pushing a wheelbarrow containing a ‘sack’ of faith. It is a desert of nails, representing idols old and new and all our imprisonments. These stinging obstacles might puncture the wheelbarrow’s rubber tire, but,” he concludes, “by following Pope Francis, who opens the path with the power of faith, they disappear: the road becomes passable for all and the goal attainable.”