Pope Francis gives the thumbs as he arrives for his weekly general audience, in St Peter's Square, at the Vatican. Picture: Andrew Medichini

Vatican City - Catholics must make “real” sacrifices for Lent, the period of penance that is observed in the six weeks leading up to Easter, Pope Francis said on Tuesday.

“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty,” Francis said in a message.

“Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt,” he added.

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on March 3. Easter, the most important religious feast in the Christian calendar, celebrating the resurrection of Christ, is on April 20.