On the afternoon of February 22 which happened to be Ash Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI presided over the traditional penitential procession from the church of St. Anselm on Rome’s Aventine Hill to the nearby basilica of Santa Sabina where he celebrated Mass. Cardinals, archbishops, bishops, the Dominican brothers at Santa Sabina, the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm and the lay faithful participated in the event.

This is 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 of Preachers has its seat. This tradition was revived by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and the tradition was continued this year when by 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.

At the Eucharistic celebration, the Holy Father talked about the significance of the ashes and the whole Lenten season. After his homily, he blessed the ashes and received the imposition from Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular of the basilica. He then distributed ashes to the cardinals and bishops present, some Dominican friars, Benedictine Monks and members of the faithful. 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, Fr Bruno Cador, OP and his Vicar for the Community of Santa Sabina, Fr Bernardino Prella, OP. They shown him 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)

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