February 23, 2012

Ash Wednesday from Augusta to the Vatican

ROME (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI rode on a motorized cart in an Ash Wednesday procession, forsaking the traditional short walk between two Rome churches as the 84-year-old pontiff tries to conserve his energy.

click image to enlarge

The Rev. Francis Morin places ashes on a person's forehead during an Ash Wednesday mass held over the lunch hour at St. Mary Church in Augusta. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Christian time of Lent, the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday. This year Western Christian churches will celebrate Easter on April 8 while the Orthodox churches have it the following Sunday April 15.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The pope wore an ermine-trimmed crimson cape to protect him from the chilly, early evening air as he stood in the cart during the brief procession atop the Aventine Hill, between St. Anselmo Church and the Basilica of Santa Sabina. The white vehicle resembled a kind of mini popemobile he uses on trips and to get around the vast expanse of St. Peter’s Square.

But Benedict walked briskly and unassisted into and out of the basilica, where he led a solemn service to mark the start of the Lenten season of penitence, including the placement of ashes on the forehead of faithful. He wore purple-colored vestments as he celebrated Mass in the ancient basilica.

Benedict has been using a different wheeled platform to navigate the long aisle of St. Peter’s Basilica to reduce wear and tear.

In his homily, he noted that Ash Wednesday is a “day of penitence and fasting.” Lent helps spiritually prepare Roman Catholics for Easter, which this year falls on April 8.

Benedict rubbed ashes on the foreheads of some faithful, as they approached him one by one, to symbolize mortality.

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