Get a Hartford Courant subscription for less than 29 cents per day

Pope Francis

Pope on Ash Wednesday: charity's not to please ourselves

Pope Francis rubbed ashes on the bowed heads of prelates, nuns and ordinary Catholics Wednesday, and had them smudged on his own head, too, to usher in the Lenten season of prayer and sacrifice he said must be done out of authentic love, not to satisfy one's conscience.

The ritual, during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, symbolizes mortality. Catholics in churches worldwide were also marking Ash Wednesday with similar ceremonies. Lent is the annual period of penitence, prayers and sacrifice as faithful prepare for Easter.

"True love, indeed, is not an exterior act, it's not to give something in a paternalistic way to satisfy the conscience, but it is accepting those who...