By Ellen Kobe
Archbishop Blase Cupich presided over Mass Wednesday, giving ashes to guests at St. Peter’s in the Loop.
Cupich was installed as the leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago in November, and this service marked the start of his first Lenten season in the city.
Beginning at 6 a.m., hundreds of people filed in and out of St. Peter’s. Nylon coats shuffled and boots squeaked on the marble floor as people entered the lobby with clean foreheads. They went to one of six stations in the lower auditorium, and within minutes, left with a cross of dark ashes above their eyebrows.
In the Church, receiving ashes is a reminder of Catholics’ need to repent their sins during Lent.
About 250 people attended the 7:30 a.m. Mass with Cupich. In his homily, he encouraged the congregation to sacrifice something during Lent that distracts them from their relationship with God.
“Ashes that are placed on our forehead today remind us of our own mortality: that we are dust and to dust we shall return,” Cupich said.
After the archbishop delivered the Mass, he spent a half hour in the lower auditorium giving ashes to those who came through. A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago said Cupich chose to visit this particular church because of the large amount of people who observe Ash Wednesday there. Carolyn Jarosz, activities and communications director at St. Peter’s, said that typically 20,000 people receive ashes at the church each year.
“He’s been so down to earth and wonderful,” Jarosz said of Cupich, whom she noted spent time talking to visitors.
Cupich stood on the right side of the lower auditorium, wearing a striped, purple stole.
“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” Cupich said as he dipped his thumb and pointer finger into a bowl of ashes and made the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead, marking them with black dust.
Cathy Harnett, a frequent attendee of St. Peter’s, said she didn’t know that the archbishop was going to be at the church Wednesday.
“I was kind of nervous,” Hartnett said. “It’s such an honor because he’s the leader.”
Hartnett said she was impressed with the archbishop for being a visible presence in the community.
“I think it’s kind of neat that he decided to come to St. Peter’s in the Loop,” Hartnett said.
Cupich maintained a normal demeanor. Some, like Steve Gamez of Woodridge, said he didn’t even realize that the Catholic leader was the one dispensing ashes.
“That’s kind of cool,” said Gamez, who has received ashes every Lent since childhood.
For John Eggert of Oak Lawn the experience was exceptional.
“It’s like receiving a Mass from a cardinal or bishop,” said Eggert, who stopped by St. Peter’s on his way to work. “It just feels a little more elevated.”