In keeping with tradition, Pope Francis marked Ash Wednesday by leading a procession on Rome's Aventine Hill before celebrating mass in the Basilica of Saint Sabina. Leading the world's Catholics into the season of Lent, Francis urged the faithful to slow down and rediscover the power of silence.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Christian holy season of Lent, which runs until Easter, and Pope Francis held his traditional Mass in the 1,600-year-old Basilica of Santa Sabina. A cardinal rubbed ashes on the pope's forehead and the pope did the same to other members of the congregation, in a ritual that reminds Christians of their mortality.
At the start of his homily, Pope Francis said the season of Lent "is a favorable time to remedy the dissonant chords of our Christian life."
The pope urged the faithful to pause a little, and leave behind the "unrest and commotion" that he said "fill the soul with bitter feelings which never get us anywhere."
He called on people to "pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children."
During Lent, Christians are urged to either fast or give up something they enjoy as a sign of humility. It is also a time when they are called to reflect on how to improve themselves and help those in need.
The pope urged the faithful not to forget compassion.
He told the faithful to "pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing; that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence."
On February 23, the pope has invited Catholics and members of all other religions to observe a day of prayer, fasting and initiatives for peace, urging the world to say "no" to violence and conflict.