Catholic Culture reported on its Web site that the pontiff preached to the faithful gathered for an Ash Wednesday service at the basilica of St. Sabina that Lent should be characterized by "more intense prayer, by an austere and penitential style of life,"
"It should be an encouragement to conversion and sincere love for our brothers, especially those who are most poor and in need," said Benedict, who led a procession from St. Anselmo to St. Sabina.
Asia News reported on its Web site that the pope invoked the example of St. Paul.
"Paul," he said, "experienced in an extraordinary manner the power of God's grace, the grace of the Paschal mystery that is the vital force of Lent itself. He presents himself to us as an 'ambassador' of the Lord. Who better than him, then, to help us travel in a fruitful way this path of interior conversion?"
Ash Wednesday, during which Catholics' foreheads are smudged with ash, is the start of the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday, which falls on April 12 this year. It's a period traditionally marks a period of penance, reflection and fasting among Catholics.