Pope Francis said on Ash Wednesday that the Lenten season provides an opportunity for conversion and interior renewal.

“Let us prepare ourselves with confidence to follow the Lenten journey that begins today as an opportunity for conversion and interior renewal in listening to the Word of God, in prayer, in the daily exercise of charity towards one’s neighbor,” the pope said on March 2.

The pope was speaking at the end of his live-streamed general audience, dedicated to the importance of spending time with the elderly.

Pope Francis also reminded pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall that March 2 is a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine.

“Our prayer and fasting will be a plea for peace in Ukraine, remembering that world peace always begins with our personal conversion, following Christ,” the pope said in his message to French-speaking pilgrims.

The general audience is the only public event on Pope Francis’ schedule for Ash Wednesday.

Last week, the pope canceled his participation in the customary Ash Wednesday procession on Rome’s Aventine Hill and Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina due to doctor-ordered rest for acute knee pain.

At the general audience, the pope walked out on the stage on his own with a smile and a wave, as he does every week. At the end of the audience, he was assisted by one other person to walk down the stairs slowly to greet pilgrims gathered in the Paul VI Hall.

In his reflection, Pope Francis was critical of the “obsession with speed” in many modern societies.

In a culture obsessed with efficiency in which “slower pace means losses and speed is money,” the pope recommended “wasting time” with children and the elderly, noting that this is not a waste but fundamental for society and strengthens the human family.

“I ask: Do you know how to waste time, or are you always in a hurry? ‘No, I’m in a rush, I can’t…’ Do you know how to waste time with grandparents, with the elderly? Do you know how to spend time playing with your children,” Pope Francis asked.

“This is the touchstone. Think about it. And this restores to each person the love for our vulnerable life, blocking the road of the obsession with speed, which simply consumes it.”

In his 2022 Lenten message, Pope Francis has also recommended that the 40 days of Lent be a time to confront addiction to digital media and focus instead on encountering those in need face to face.

“The arrogance of the time of the clock must be converted into the beauty of the rhythms of life. This is the reform we must make in our hearts, in the family, and in society,” the pope said at the audience.

Pope Francis noted that many modern cities tend to be “hostile to the elderly, and not by chance, also to children.”

He said: “This society has this spirit of rejection. It rejects so many unwanted children and it rejects the elderly. It casts them aside — they are no use — to rest homes, hospitals…”

“One completely loses sight of the bigger picture… The excess of speed pulverizes life: it does not make it more intense,” he added.

Pope Francis underlined that while old age imposes a slower pace, it is not a “time of inertia.”

“The meaning of life is not only in adulthood, say, from 25 to 60 years — no. The meaning of life is all of it, from birth to death, and you should be able to interact with everyone, and also to have emotional relationships with everyone, so that your maturity will be richer and stronger,” he said.

The pope stressed the importance of more interactions between people of different generations.

“The alliance of the generations is indispensable. A society in which the elderly do not speak with the young, the young do not speak with the elderly, is a sterile society, without a future, a society that does not look to the horizon but rather looks at itself. And it becomes lonely,” he said.

“May God help us to find the right music for this harmonization of the various ages: the little ones, the elderly, adults, everyone together: a beautiful symphony of dialogue.”