SHAMOKIN — Individuals received a sprinkling of ashes on their heads while others applied ashes to their own foreheads over an online conference call during an Ash Wednesday unlike any that have come before it.

Father Fred Wangwe of Saint Monica's Church, Sunbury, had 91 people between two masses receive ashes while Rev. Scott Kershner, the Susquehanna University Chaplain, delivered his message to about 20 people on a Zoom conference call. 

"To see so many people come out is great," Wangwe said. "We have been fluctuating from week to week so this is nice."

The morning mass saw 25 people while the noon services saw 65 people attend, Wangwe said.

Wangwe said he was OK with the diocese switching back to the original way of delivering ashes by sprinkling the ashes on the individual's head.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, clergy in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg did not mark the sign of the cross on people’s foreheads with ashes this year as is traditionally done.

Wednesday marked the first day of Lent, a 40-day period when Catholics are asked to devote themselves to seeking the Lord in prayer and reading scripture, to service by giving alms, and to sacrifice through fasting, according to diocese officials.

Ashes were to be distributed with clergy members blessing the ashes and sprinkling them with Holy Water.

"It's the way it was done in the past," Wangwe said. "The message is the same and we must all have hope and love."

Kershner said this was the strangest Ash Wednesday he has experienced.

"We thought there would be no way this year we would have Ash Wednesday, but we knew we had to come up with something," he said. 

Palms from 2020 that were unused were burned and the ashes collected were put in small cups for students to pick up on the campus in Selinsgrove for Wednesday's services.

As the service went on, Kershner directed individuals to use the ashes on their foreheads.

"I was glad I was able to get out and attend mass," Heather Feese, 52, of Selinsgrove said before mass at Saint Monica's Wednesday afternoon. "I haven't been able to really go and today is a special day so I wanted to attend in person. This is all new to all of us but it warms my heart to see so many people getting out to get ashes."

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