Ash Wednesday at Santa Sabina

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Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting. It is marked by a centuries old tradition in which the Pope leads a penitential procession to the first Lenten station in the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, in Rome, where the General Curia of the Order has its seat. Revived by Blessed John XXIII in 1962, this tradition was continued this year when, on the 22nd of February at 16.30, Pope Benedict XVI lead the procession from the basilica of St. Anselm on the Aventine to that of Santa Sabina where he celebrated the Eucharist. After the bible readings the Pope delivered his homily and then he blessed the ashes and distributed them to cardinals, bishops, some Dominican friars, some Benedictine monks and to a group of lay persons. Ashes were also distributed by twelve Dominican and Benedictine priests to all the faithful gathered for the occasion. Many faithful who wanted to participate in this first Lenten Station with the Pope filled the basilica to capacity and a big-screen was prepared in the square in front of the basilica for the many who were not able to enter the church.

At the end of the Eucharist and before returning to the Vatican, the Pope met the Master of the Order and his Vicar for the Community of Santa Sabina and he was shown the fresco that was discovered in the atrium of the basilica showing the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus surrounded among others by the apostles Peter and Paul and the martyrs St. Sabina and St. Seraphia. This painting was done during the pontificate of Pope Constantine (708-715).