Ash Wednesday traditions altered this year, including in the Coachella Valley

Taylor Martinez via NBC News

Pope Francis led the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics into the Penitential season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, as a centuries-old traditional ritual was tweaked to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Francis, who normally marked the start of lent with an outdoor procession between two ancient churches in Rome, instead said a mass for about 120 people in St. Peter’s Basilica.

During Lent, which ends on Easter, Christians are called on to fast, practice more good deeds, give alms, be close to the needy and suffering, and give up something, such as sweets.

Last month the Vatican issued guidelines for Ash Wednesday in the covid era.

They said priests should sprinkle ashes on the head rather than rub them on the forehead to limit the possible spread if one hand touched many foreheads.

They also said priests should wear masks and recite the traditional, “remember that you are dust and to dust you will return,” once before for everyone and not to each person as they received ashes.

However, the Pope himself did not totally apply the new rules.

He generously dumped ashes on the crown of the heads of some Cardinals and patted them down.

Sprinkling of ashes has been customary in parts of Europe and Latin America while rubbing on the forehead is predominant in the United States.

In his sermon, the Pope said Lent should be a chance to leave behind “the false security of money and conveniences,” and return to god.

In the Coachella Valley, Our Lady of Perpetual Help offered a drive-through ash distribution.

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