By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) – Pope Francis told Catholics on Wednesday that success, power and material possessions are fleeting and will disappear “like dust in the wind” as he marked the start of the penitential Christian season of Lent.
Francis led a traditional procession between two churches on Rome’s Aventine Hill and later said Mass during which he had ashes rubbed onto his head by a cardinal in a rite intended to remind people of their mortality.
“The small mark of ash, which we will receive, is a subtle yet real reminder that of the many things occupying our thoughts, that we chase after and worry about every day, nothing will remain,” he said in his homily.
“No matter how hard we work, we will take no wealth with us from this life. Earthly realities fade away like dust in the wind,” he said. “Possessions are temporary, power passes, success wanes.”
During Lent, which ends on Easter Sunday – April 21 this year – Christians are urged to give alms, pray and fast.
On Sunday, the pope and most top Vatican officials will travel to a town south of Rome to take part in a week-long spiritual Lenten retreat.
The retreat takes place as the Church faces criticism from victims of sexual abuse by clergy who say a top-level conference at the Vatican last month has failed to come up with concrete measures to tackle the issue.
The Church is also reeling from the conviction in Australia of Cardinal George Pell on sexual abuse charges.
In Wednesday’s homily, Francis said people should focus on the needs of others and practise “charity that frees us from the vanity of acquiring and of thinking that things are only good if they are good for me.”
“Outward appearance, money, a career or hobby: if we live for them, they will become idols that enslave us, sirens that charm us and then cast us adrift,” Francis said.
“We need to free ourselves from the clutches of consumerism and the snares of selfishness, from always wanting more, from never being satisfied, and from a heart closed to the needs of the poor,” he said.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)