Praying of the novenas was actually supposed to start on the 8th, but it is the marking of ashes in Catholic churches across the world that marks the start of Lent, a time the Catholics use to reflect and remember the fragility and mortality of the human condition in its passage through this world.
The ashes can not come from just anywhere; only those left from the burning of the palm branches from the previous year are applied to the foreheads of the faithful, as the priest consecrates his invocation in Latin: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, or “convert and believe in the gospel.”
After the Panamanians paraded in the Burial of the Sardine, as done in Murcia, Spain, at dawn yesterday to announce the start of Lent, the Archbishop of Panama, José Domingo Ulloa, invited the faithful to participate in a period of fasting, reflection and prayer, a bit difficult for those still intoxicated from the partying.
But thousands more will follow the Archbishop's call, especially those who overcome their own physical handicaps to reach the Basilica Minor of Atalaya after having hauled all their humanity and sorrows for kilometers, some in chains, others weighed down by excessively heavy burdens.
Atalaya is already full, but the massive crowd of believers will arrive on Friday to participate in the apotheosis of Palm Sunday, when more than 400,000 people will follow behind the image of Jesus of Nazarene in the most important religious procession in Panama.