Lent begins with Ash Wednesday Mass by pope

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican ((AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia))

February 13, 2013 9:02:22 AM PST
Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, to mark first day of Lent. Huge crowds cheered Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican as he made his first public appearance since announcing his resignation at the end of the month.

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The Catholic faithful were gathered in a Vatican City audience hall for Benedict's regular weekly appearance. He thanked them in several languages and said he does not have the strength required to continue as the head of the Catholic Church.

Benedict celebrated an Ash Wednesday Mass marking the beginning of Lent at Saint Peter's Basilica in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, the pope tweeted, "During the season of Lent which begins today, we renew our commitment to the path of conversion, making more room for God in our lives."

Ash Wednesday ushers in the 40 days of Lent, which is a period of penance, reflection and fasting in preparation for Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday. A priest, minister or designated lay person applies consecrated ash on the forehead in the shape of a cross. The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year, christened with Holy Water and scented by exposure to incense.

Overcast skies and the threat of rain couldn't dampen the revelry of Mardi Gras in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday. Parade-goers lined up despite the threat of inclement weather. Some families camped out overnight to stake out choice spots to view the different parades.

Parading kicked off just after dawn, led by clarinetist Pete Fountain and his Half-Fast Marching Club. The Krewe of Zulu and the parade of Rex, King of Carnival, wound their way down stately St. Charles Avenue to the business district during the morning.

Aryanna Gamble, of New Orleans, said it's about celebrating New Orleans.

"It's about loving the city and being proud of who you are and where you come from and celebrating that," she said.

Many revelers in the French Quarter had drinks in hand before sunrise. Some donned costumes, tutus, beads and boas. As the parades passed the members threw beads to revelers eager to gather them up and wear them.

Energy company Entergy received some mockery, one reveler carried a placard reading "Entergy 'Suspend us... We'll cut off your lights!'" referring to the power outage that interrupted the Super Bowl, held in New Orleans last Sunday.

Phil Weipert was visiting New Orleans from South Lyon, Michigan, for his first time at Mardi Gras.

"Mardi Gras is the best," he said.

"New Orleans is back and we love it... It's one non-stop party. We've got women in costumes, men in costumes, kings, queens. It's the best," said Gamble.

The French Quarter stirred to life and later in the day and was the center of the celebration's more ribald side. Rain or shine, it was the last chance for parade-goers during the Carnival season, which ended at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday. After that, the solemn season of Lent replaces the revelry until Easter.