Diocesan News

Lenten Season Begins With Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral

A parishioner receives ashes from Bishop Robert Brennan. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. These are the three pillars of Lent. For many, that involves sacrificing something simple, such as giving up coffee or junk food. But for Bishop Robert Brennan, the 40-day season is also a time to take on a faith-based challenge — this year, it is the second annual Lenten Pilgrimage.

“To me, the pilgrimage is the center of it all, to try to spend more time before the Lord and the Blessed Sacrament, apart from my regular prayer activity,” Bishop Brennan told The Tablet.

This Ash Wednesday, Bishop Brennan celebrated a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Downtown Brooklyn, kickstarting the Diocesan Lenten Pilgrimage. 

It was the first stop of 40 churches over 37 days throughout Brooklyn and Queens, designed for a special celebration of the Eucharist during the Lenten holiday. A new church will be visited every Monday through Saturday as part of this pilgrimage. Sunday service, Bishop Brennan said, is for celebrating at one’s home parish.

Familiar faces were at the Ash Wednesday Mass, including Sister Mary Ann Ambrose, CSJ, to whom this year’s pilgrimage is dedicated. Last year, she attended all 42 churches in the Lenten pilgrimage. 

This year, she will try and do the same — so long as her health allows her to do so. Diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in August, Sister Mary Ann made sure to check with her doctor to ensure it wouldn’t be too much strain on her health.

“I have all of Brooklyn and Queens on my list, but we’ll see. My oncologist said, ‘You plan your journey, and we’ll work around it.’ So, I have the doctor on board,” she said.

This year, Ash Wednesday fell on the same day as Valentine’s Day. Despite having “never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day,” Bishop Brennan found it interesting that the days fall together this year, as the Church sets out to commemorate the “greatest love story ever told.”

“These days of Lent invite us to cast aside all the things that distract us, all the things that weigh us down, all the things that fill us up with false satisfaction, to let ourselves be loved [by God],” Bishop Brennan told the attendees during his homily.

Looking to build upon last year’s success, the 2024 Lenten Pilgrimage has evolved from pen and paper to the smartphone. A mobile app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play, has been designed for the event. Through this app, attendees will “check in” to each location they visit along the pilgrimage via a QR Code displayed in the church. 

Among those at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James were Tim Dieterichs and Edgar Ochoa, whose home parish is the cathedral. Both downloaded and checked into the pilgrimage using the mobile app, and Dieterichs immediately appreciated the ability to input prayer intentions. 

Ochoa hopes to make it to other stops in the Lenten Pilgrimage, taking advantage of the opportunity to explore different parishes in the diocese.

“That’s one of the things that attracted me to it,” Ochoa said. “I’ve always liked going to new churches, whether there’s a service or not. I’m hoping I can discover other ones.”

The mobile app allows the Diocese of Brooklyn to take their pilgrimage global, says Father Joseph Gibino, the Diocese of Brooklyn’s vicar for evangelization and catechesis. The prayer intentions capability allows people from across the world to join in the diocesan effort to encourage a refocus on faith before the Easter season. 

Regardless of how technologically savvy the diocese may get in its missionary efforts, however, the focus of Lent remains on prayer and devotion to God, according to Father Gibino.

“Today, we remember that prayer is the first wireless connection. Even though we are using an app and our cellphones, it’s the power of prayer directly to God that is so important. And our hearts become the cellphone for our prayer — our open hearts to the Lord,” Father Gibino said.