Today, Christians throughout the world kicked off the beginning of Lent, by marking their foreheads with ashes in the traditional shape of a cross.

At St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Manayunk, parishioners began arriving in the early morning for the giving of the ashes ceremony along with communion.

Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days prior to Easter, 40 days not including Sundays, and begins the period of Lent, in which worshipers are encouraged to give up something they love, such as chocolate or soda.

Mary Ellen Wack said she would try to abstain from eating potato chips while Jack Johnson vowed to give up "just a couple of beers, I guess."

The Church used palm leaves from the previous year's "Palm Sunday" to make the ashes.

This tradition symbolizes human mortality, and mourning over the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Unlike the Catholic eucharist, this ritual is not a sacrament, but rather a reminder of our own deaths, St. John's Deacon Casper Baratta explained.

At 10 a.m. a Philadelphia gas worker pulled his truck over, flagging down Deacon Baratta who was clutching a bowl of ashes as he left morning mass.

The worker asked for a quick "drive by" application of ashes, which the Deacon was happy to help with.

Baratta performed the brief ceremony echoing a line from the book of Genesis, "Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return".

The holiday is not specific to any Christian denomination; therefore nearly every church in the city is performing the same ritual at different times today.

Deacon Casper Baratta is performing the ceremony throughout the day at hospitals and nursing homes in the area, including the Roxborough Memorial Hospital and the Andorra Woods Healthcare Center.

Parishioners of St. John the Baptist Church will get another chance to receive ashes tonight at a 7:30 p.m. mass. 

Today's events come just one day after the Archbishop of Philadelphia placed 21 priests on administrative leave in connection to the sexual abuse of children.  This was the latest in a series of actions by the Archdiocese to address abuse allegations in last month's grand jury report.  The names of the suspended priests have not yet been released.  


for NewsWorks