SCRANTON, Pa. — John Pocius and his wife said hello to old friends as they walked into the Cathedral of St. Peter in downtown Scranton.
Plenty of people turned out for the first Ash Wednesday mass of the day just as the sun was rising.
Although ashes were still distributed with a Q-tip to avoid direct contact, Pocius was just happy to be surrounded by fellow parishioners.
"Watching it from home the first year, live-streamed and everything just didn't cut it. But right now, it's wonderful to see your friends and everything," he said. "I said to my wife, 'I wonder how many of the old gang will be back in this mass here.'"
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day season of renewal and sacrifice for Christians.
Bishop Joseph Bambera from the Diocese of Scranton says this year, coming together to worship during the Lenten season feels especially important as the world watches the events unfolding in Ukraine.
"That really takes on great significance for all of us. I think our hearts are all broken. We're devastated by the suffering that we see the senseless burdens that are being placed on those people," said Bishop Bambera.
In that spirit, Pope Francis is calling for today to be a Day of Fasting and Prayer for peace in Ukraine. Parishioners we spoke to in Scranton say the situation in Eastern Europe is weighing heavy on their hearts today.
"I have been very concerned about the state of the country for a while now, and now I'm really concerned about the state of our world. And this [the church] is what's going to make the difference," said Diana Hoffman.
"I think it's time for all Catholics and all Christians and all religions to take time to really take a deep breath and look around, and thank God for what they have," said Pocius.
All churches within the diocese are taking up a special collection on Wednesday, which will go towards aid in Ukraine.
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