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Detroit – Hundreds of Catholics packed a downtown Detroit church Wednesday to be blessed and receive ashes from Archbishop Allen Vigneron.

“I’d like to be able to present to you this campaign of Christian service as a seasoning to resonate (with) the resolutions or aspirations you have for Lent,” Vigneron said during his homily at St. Aloysius Catholic Church on Washington Boulevard.

During services Wednesday, parishioners worldwide received crosses on their foreheads, smudged with ash made from burned palm leaves gathered from last year’s Palm Sunday services.

“The cross is a powerful symbol ... Like St. Paul says, we are ambassadors for Christ because we know his love, we’re hungry for it and we want to be more hungry for it,” Vigneron said. “Let this Lent bring us together with ashes we put on our heads as evidence.”

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day liturgical season of prayer and penance in preparation for Easter. Lent also serves as a season of initiation for newcomers to the Catholic Church, culminating at Easter with sacraments of baptism, first Communion and confirmation.

“The purpose is to confess that we have not loved Christ as much as he deserves ... the meaning, the whole point for fasting, good deeds and immense prayer is to renew our marriage vows between us, the church and the Lord,” Vigneron said. “Repent and believe in the gospel.”

For the first time since 1945, Lent and love collide as Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, a day full of steak and decadent chocolates.The archdiocese's newspaper, the Michigan Catholic, launched its second campaign on social media using #LiveYourBestLent as inspiration for Catholics to perform acts of love, pray and to do good deeds. It also is a place for the faithful to share stories, photos and inspirations during fasting.

For worshipers trying to avoid temptation, Vigneron said, “A good thing to do, keeping in mind Ash Wednesday, is praying together,” he said. “This might be a good time for mac and cheese instead of the gorgeous steak dinner.”

Michelle St. Pierre, spokeswoman for the Michigan Catholic, said they launched the campaign to uplift Catholics during Lent.

“We felt Lent was a great time to uplift people’s spirits. As Pope Francis states, we should meet people where they’re at and right now, that’s on social media,” said St. Pierre. “Because Lent and love collide this year, this is to let people know they’re not alone on this journey and to show and do their actions with love.”

Carmen Ragland, 72, of Livonia has been attending St. Aloysius for 15 years and said she always attends Ash Wednesday at the Detroit church.

“It’s nice to see the archbishop here every year and I try to focus not on material stuff, but on the spiritual journey,” said Ragland.

Austin Kieffer said he and his girlfriend celebrated Valentine’s Day last weekend to keep their focus on Lent.

“We went out to a steak house in Bloomfield Hills because it was impossible to get reservations at any in Detroit even the weekend before,” he said. “She still got her flowers and chocolates early and now we can spent these next few weeks on our own spiritual journey, although it will be hard not eating candy.”

Focusing on the spiritual was why some parishioners at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Southfield moved their Valentine plans in order to help out at an annual “drive-through ash” service Wednesday, the Rev. Chris Yaw said. Some even joked about making the sign of the cross in a heart-shape, he added.

“The holidays have a lot in common because they both have to do with love,” Yaw said. “Ultimately, it reminds us of our mortality and Christ’s love for us.”

Sister Susan Brigit Brooks was heartened to participate in the drive-through service and also administer ashes in Detroit.

“Lent is a time of prayerful reflection,” she said. “When I’m administering ashes with people, I feel really blessed because I’m able to do the work that gives them something they needed for their spiritual self.”

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.

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