Pope marks Ash Wednesday

Significance of the holiday


ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI has led a solemn service to mark the start of the Lenten season of penitence, including the placement of ashes on the forehead of faithful.

Benedict wore purple-colored vestments as he celebrated Mass in the Basilica of Santa Sabina, an ancient church on Rome's Aventine Hill.

Although the 84-year-old pontiff has been using a wheeled platform to navigate the long aisle of St. Peter's Basilica to save energy, he walked unassisted into and out of Santa Sabina. 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 to symbolize mortality.