Vatican City, 24 February 2012 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received members of the "Circolo di San Pietro" who gave him, as they traditionally do every year, the "Peter's Pence" collection which is raised annually in parishes and religious institutes of the diocese of Rome. The sum is offered to the Pope to help him respond to the many petitions that come to him from around the world, especially from the poorest countries.

Benedict XVI thanked the members of the group for their efforts in favour of the needy, including canteens for the poor, shelters and international aid, and he encouraged them to ensure that faith, charity and witness continue to be the guiding principles of their apostolate.

"Lent has just begun", the Pope noted, "a liturgical period which invites us to reflect upon the nucleus of Christian life: charity. ... The witness of charity has a particular effect upon the heart of mankind; the new evangelisation ... requires great openness of spirit and a sagacious readiness to accept everyone", he said.

The Holy Father highlighted how "the authenticity of our faithfulness to the Gospel may also be measured in terms of the concern and solicitude we effectively strive to show towards others, especially the weak and the marginalised. Concern for others involves wishing their good in all aspects: physical, moral, and spiritual. Although modern culture seems to have lost a sense of good and evil, we must reaffirm that goodness exists and it triumphs.

"Responsibility towards our fellows means, then, wanting and doing good for others, hoping that they too will open themselves to the logic of goodness", he added. "Concern for our brothers and sisters means opening our eyes to their needs, overcoming that hardness of heart which makes us blind to others' suffering. Thus the service of charity becomes a privileged form of evangelisation, also in the light of Jesus' teaching, Who will consider what we have done to our fellows, especially the smallest and weakest, as having been done to Him".

Concluding his address, Benedict XVI highlighted the need to "bring our hearts into harmony with Christ's heart, so that our loving support for others may be translated into participation and sharing of their suffering and hopes. This will reveal both God's infinite mercy for all mankind, ... and our own faith in Him. Meeting others and opening our hearts to their needs is an opportunity for salvation and beatitude".

The "Circolo di San Pietro" was founded in Rome in 1869 by a group of young people under the guidance of Cardinal Jacobini and delegated by the Pope to exercise charity towards the poor.

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