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VATICAN CITY, JUL 28, 1999 (VIS) - "Hell, as the definitive rejection of God" was the theme of the catechesis of the Holy Father's general audience, held this morning in the Paul VI Hall.

The Pope recalled that "God is the Father, infinitely good and merciful. But man, called in freedom to respond to God, can unfortunately choose to definitively reject His love and His pardon, thus removing himself forever from joyous communion with Him. It is to precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine refers when it speaks of hell or damnation. ... Nonetheless, in a theological sense, hell is something else: It is the ultimate consequence of sin itself."

"The images with which hell is presented to us by Sacred Scripture must be correctly interpreted. They demonstrate the complete frustration and emptiness of a life without God. More than a physical place, hell is the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God."

John Paul II continued by saying that "'damnation' should not be attributed to God, because in His merciful love He cannot but wish for the salvation of the creatures He has made. In reality it is the creature that closes himself to love. 'Damnation' actually consists in the definitive separation from God."

We, the Pope concluded, cannot know, "without special divine revelation," who has been condemned. "The idea of hell - and still less the incorrect use of biblical images - should not be a cause of anxiety or despair; rather it represents a necessary and healthy reminder that the resurrected Jesus conquered Satan, giving us the Spirit of God so that we too could call Him "Father."
AG/HELL/... VIS 990728 (280)

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