About 100 commuters approached during the two-hour window to receive ashes and the traditional prayer: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Some almost charged over when they saw the untraditional, pop-up chapel in the crowds, cutting off other commuters. Some appeared surprised, paused and then approached.
“Baptists don’t do ashes, but I’m versatile with my religion,” said Tina Buckmon, 53, who was heading from the bus to her job as a cook at a child-care center next to the station. “It doesn’t matter where it comes from, everyone needs a blessing. I’m with all religions.”
Buckmon said she doesn’t wear a cross because she believes Jesus has risen and is no longer on the cross. She is deeply religious, describes having premonitions and believes God has used her in daily ways to help others. Yet she doesn’t talk a lot about her faith at work because “some people don’t want to hear it.”
Most commuters walked past the priest, who stood between a Pret a Manger and an Au Bon Pain, with no acknowledgment. Others stole furtive looks that could have been interpreted as curiosity, or guilt. A few gave a small smile and a nod, the obligatory kind you’d give to a person ringing a Salvation Army bell at Christmas.
One man thought the priest was actually a man in costume making fun of Christianity. Another launched into a rap about the Rapture.
Some just watched from afar. Jason Williams, 37, was in town from Annapolis and was having some oatmeal and an iced coffee when he noticed the trio. A “non-practicing” Catholic, Williams said he’d worn ashes at various times in his life and would “absolutely not” think it would be hard to wear them in a diverse place such as Washington.
Asked whether he’d feel comfortable discussing all this at work, his answer was quick: “No, no, no. That’s a professional environment.”