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Pope receives ashes atop head in penitence rite

Pope Benedict XVI arrives for his weekly general audience in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 9, 2011. The pontiff said that taking care of the environment is an imperative following all the damage inflicted on the planet by human selfishness. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)
Pope Benedict XVI arrives for his weekly general audience in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 9, 2011. The pontiff said that taking care of the environment is an imperative following all the damage inflicted on the planet by human selfishness. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito) (Pier Paolo Cito - AP)
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The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 12:41 PM

ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI is marking the solemn opening of the Catholic church's Lenten period with an Ash Wednesday service in an ancient Roman basilica.

The pope wore an ermine-trimmed crimson cloak in the chilly evening air as he walked in a short procession to St. Sabina's Basilica on the Aventine hill.

Then, in purple vestments representing the 40-day period of spiritual renewal and penitence to prepare for Easter, Benedict received a sprinkling of ash on his white hair from a cardinal. The 83-year-old pope then performed the same symbolic act, a reminder of mortality, on other prelates, monks and lay people while a choir chanted hymns.

The Lenten period culminates in Holy Week, including a nighttime Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum.


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