VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II asked Christians to radically embrace the Gospel command to love one's enemy, saying forgiveness was the only way to peace between peoples and nations.
``In our times, forgiveness appears more and more as a necessary dimension for an authentic social renewal and for the strengthening of peace in the world,'' he said in his annual message for Lent.
The 1,600-word message, centering on the scriptural phrase, ``Love is not resentful,'' was presented at a Vatican press conference February 9.
The Pope said Lent, a traditional time of reconciling with God, should prompt believers to re-examine whether their lives conform to Christ's command to ``love your enemies (and) do good to those who hate you.''
``They are words that, if taken seriously, demand a radical conversion,'' he said.
In addition to asking forgiveness for wrongs committed, ``the Christian must make peace even when feeling as the victim of one who has unjustly offended and struck,'' he said.
He said only interior conversion and ``humble obedience to the command of Jesus'' could enable believers to resist ``the psychological mechanisms of self-pity and revenge.''
He particularly emphasized the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation, saying the experience of receiving God's forgiveness ``encourages us to live in love, considering the other not as enemy but as a brother.''
In addition to its spiritual fruits, forgiveness brings peace between peoples and opens individuals to the material needs of others, he said.
Especially in places where conflict has left enduring animosity among peoples, accepting and offering forgiveness interrupts ``the spiral of hatred and revenge, and breaks the chains of evil which bind the hearts of rivals,'' he said.
``For nations in search of reconciliation and for those hoping for peaceful coexistence among individuals and peoples, there is no other way than forgiveness received and offered,'' he said.
He said spiritual reconciliation also predisposes individuals to see and respond to the material needs of others, because ``a heart reconciled with God and with neighbor is a generous heart.''
When done with a reconciled heart, the traditional Lenten practice of almsgiving ``assumes a deeper meaning, because it is not just giving something from the surplus to relieve one's conscience, but to truly take upon one's self the misery present in the world,'' he said.
At the press conference, Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Vatican aid agency ``Cor Unum,'' unveiled a new papal charity project to assist AIDS orphans in Uganda over the next two years.
Funded by a gift to the Pope of about $500,000 from the northern Italian city of Milan, local Ugandan Catholic organizations hope to care for some 2,000 children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS in and around the capital, Kampala.
``Cor Unum'' officials also reported that the Pope gave about $4.9 million in charitable aid in 2000. Of that, more than $1 million was spent for 32 disaster relief projects, with the largest donation -- $140,000 -- going to help Mozambique's flood victims.
The Pope gave about $2 million each to the Populorum Progressio Foundation, instituted in 1992 to assist poor Latin American farming communities, and to the John Paul II Sahel Foundation, instituted in 1984 to combat desertification and boost clean water resources in nine African countries.
The Pope receives his charity funding from the annual Peter's Pence collection and donations from religious communities and private individuals.