- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick began the Lenten season yesterday for the District’s Catholics with a noon Mass in which he asked parishioners to strengthen their relationship with God by becoming closer to their neighbors.

“My hope for this year is that people will gain a deeper perspective for each other and that all people are closer to God at the end of Lent,” Cardinal McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, told the overflow Ash Wednesday assembly at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest.

Ash Wednesday begins the 40-day period of Lent — which ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter — and is considered a time of penance, fasting and other sacrifices. However, Cardinal McCarrick asked the congregation of more than 1,200 parishioners to think of Ash Wednesday also as a beginning.

“It’s a new moment in our lives,” he said. “We should look at our neighbors and God in a new light. Lent is about forgiveness. It’s a day of salvation. This can be a new year for all of us.”

The cardinal also asked for prayers for the ailing Pope John Paul II and all those who were ill. The 84-year-old pope, who has been sick for several weeks, yesterday did not publicly celebrate Ash Wednesday for the first time in his 26-year papacy, prompting discussions about whether he should or can take the unprecedented step of retiring. He instead celebrated Mass for doctors in his Rome hospital room as he recovered from the flu and breathing troubles.

“No one loves the church better than the Holy Father,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “He knows what is best for the church.”

Calling honesty and humility the two greatest virtues a person could have, the cardinal asked members of the congregation to be humble and to respect others.

“We should give a sense of humility with everyone, no matter what their stature,” he said.

The tradition of marking the forehead with ashes on Ash Wednesday became part of the Roman Catholic Church’s Lenten preparations in the seventh century. The ashes traditionally come from palms used during the previous year’s Palm Sunday Masses, then burned.

Another Lenten tradition is that Catholics 18 to 59 observe a modest fast of only one full meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Devout observers also do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday or Fridays during the period.

“The idea is to remember the sacrifice on the cross,” said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington. “Every Friday during Lent is considered a day of sorrow.”

Cardinal McCarrick, 74, celebrated four Masses yesterday, ending his day with a 9 p.m. Mass at the Catholic University of America in Northeast.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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