.- Following a multitude of carnival celebrations in Rome, the city began the Lenten season today with Ash Wednesday. Among the many liturgies to be offered today in the Eternal City, the Holy Father will preside over the General Audience and Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Saint Sabina.
"Carnevale" events in the Italian capital leading up to the beginning of Lent included parades, theater shows, equestrian performances, concerts and fireworks. For the first time ever, a Latin American contingent hosted a party in the streets of Rome in which participants danced past the Imperial Forums to the Colosseum.
Costumed children and masked people on horseback took part in events over the course of the extended Roman carnival celebrations which started Feb. 6.
With those days past now, Ash Wednesday ushers in the more solemn days of Lent.
Pope Benedict plans to host the usual General Audience at Paul VI Hall, followed by an evening penitential procession from Church of St. Anselm on Rome's Aventine Hill to the Basilica of Saint Sabina. There, Benedict XVI will celebrate Holy Mass with the rite of benediction and imposition of the ashes.
Cardinals, bishops, members of the Roman Curia, the Benedictine Brothers of St. Anselm's and the Dominican Fathers of St. Sabina will be participating in the events along with the lay faithful.
Meanwhile, at the Basilica of St. Peter's in the Vatican, the archpriest of the basilica, Cardinal Angelo Comastri will preside over a Eucharistic Celebration and imposition of the ashes early on Wednesday to mark the start of Lent for workers in the Vatican.
In his 2010 Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes the need for 'divine justice,' giving up our thoughts of self-sufficiency and realizing our dependence on God to celebrate the fullness of charity, gift and salvation.
The Holy Father also said that he hopes this penitential season will be "for every Christian a time of authentic conversion and intense knowledge of the mystery of Christ, who came to fulfill every justice."