Like every Ash Wednesday, the penitential celebration began here in the Basilica of St. Anselm on Aventine Hill.
The pope participated in a procession from this church to the basilica of St. Sabina, a few meters away. However, it is entirely uphill and Pope Francis makes it in silence, which symbolizes the penitential recollection and proper attitude of the time of Lent.
Pope Francis celebrated the mass in this other basilica on the Aventine Hill accompanied by some cardinals of the Roman Curia. During his homily he explained the definition of Lent.
"Lent is the road leading from slavery to freedom, from suffering to joy, from death to life.”
The pope recalled that men were created from a breath of life of God. A new air that everyone needs in a world with a vicious atmosphere that causes suffocation.
"The stifling suffocation brought on by our selfishness, the stifling suffocation generated by petty ambition and silent indifference – a suffocation that smothers the spirit, narrows our horizons and slows the beating of our hearts. We think it is normal because we have grown so accustomed to breathing in air which hope has dissipated, the air of glumness and resignation, the stifling air of panic and hostility.”
Pope Francis further assured that Lent is a time to flee from hypocrisy and to practice heartfelt fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
"Lent is the time to say no to the suffocation of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good.”
He invited the Church to live Lent as a time of compassion, a time to breathe again and open the heart to the breath of divine life.
After the homily, the time came for the ashes. Cardinal Jozef Tomko, the pastor of this basilica, put the ashes on the head of the pope. The pope, in turn, did the same with the cardinals who accompanied him on the altar.
The ashes of this ceremony, according to Pope Francis, remind men of dust, but of a dust that has been molded by the loving hands of God.