ROME — In his annual Lenten message, Pope Francis warned the “proud, rich, and powerful” that if they ignore the poor at their door — who represent Christ himself — they’ll end up in the solitude of hell.

The pope’s annual message was an appeal for all Christians to use the 40-day season that starts Feb. 10 leading up to Easter to “overcome our existential alienation” by listening to God and practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

According to the Gospel, Francis wrote, those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the infirm, give counsel, and practice forgiveness do so as though to Christ himself.

“By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they, too, are poor and in need,” Francis wrote.

Christ becomes visible in the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled, he wrote, and particularly in those who around the world who suffer for their faith.

It’s only through works of mercy that the powerful and wealthy can be embraced and loved by Jesus, who was crucified and rose for them, the pope said.

Christ’s love, he wrote, is the answer “to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power, and riches.”

“Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich, and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell.”

Francis wrote that there are some who “consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor” because they’re slaves of sin, using wealth and power not in service of God and others, “but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they, too, are only poor beggars.”

“The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow,” to the point of being blind to Christ, “who through the poor pleads for our conversion,” he wrote.

The works of mercy Francis is promoting this Lenten season and throughout the Holy Year of Mercy are intended to foster both penance and charity, and are traditionally divided into “corporal” and “spiritual.”

Those corporal works are:

  • Feeding the hungry
  • Visiting the sick
  • Clothing the naked
  • Giving drink to the thirsty
  • Sheltering the homeless
  • Visiting prisoners
  • Burying the dead

The spiritual works of mercy are:

  • Instructing the ignorant
  • Counseling the doubtful
  • Admonishing the sinner
  • Comforting the afflicted
  • Forgiving offenses
  • Bearing wrongs patiently
  • Praying for the living and the dead

Lent is a 40-day period of fasting, prayer, and repentance that begins on Ash Wednesday and serves as preparation for Easter Sunday, March 27. For Latin-rite Catholics, this year it begins Feb. 10.