Today is Ash Wednesday, which kicks off the Lenten season. This is a significant day in the Catholic Church year beginning a period of forty days of prayer, fasting and charity. At services, people traditionally are marked with ashes of burnt palm branches as a sign of their recognition of their human frailty as well as sinfulness and need for repentance in their lifelong journey of conversion. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (April 3) are days of fasting within the Church for those between the ages of 18 and 59. They may eat only one full meal and two other meals consisting of substantially less food. There should be no food taken between meals. Anyone whose health is threatened by fasting is exempted. Catholics age 14 and older also abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays of Lent.
Signing with ashes will be held throughout the diocese on Ash Wednesday. Anyone may call their local Catholic church for times. Ashes will be distributed today at St. Ambrose Cathedral, at 6th and High Streets in Des Moines, during the 12:10 p.m. Mass. Bishop Richard Pates will be the celebrant of the Mass. Attendance at services and being signed with ashes is open to anyone who desires it, regardless of whether they are a member of the Catholic Church.
The people of diocesan parishes and schools are encouraged to support the CRS Rice Bowl effort, formerly called Operation Rice Bowl, during the Lenten season. The Rice Bowl helps us live in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable around the world. Twenty-five percent of the donations raised through the Rice Bowl effort stay in the Diocese of Des Moines to assist with local people in need. The other 75 percent supports people who live in poverty through Catholic Relief Services programs in more than 100 countries around the world.
Also during the Lenten season, the 17 schools in the Diocese of Des Moines are focusing on a project to raise funds for a Catholic seminary in Nigeria. The project, called “Building the Kingdom,” honors the four Nigerian priests of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit who serve in the Des Moines diocese. They are: Father Felix Onuora, Father Anthony Adibe, Father Emmanuel Agwuoke and Father Remi Okere.