Story by Britain Eakin

Known as Ash Wednesday, millions of Catholics and other Christians will have ashes placed on their foreheads, signaling the start of Lent, the season of penance and prayer before Easter.

Some Tucson churches will be out around town offering what they are calling, "ashes to go," which is part of a nationwide movement to reach out to those who won't make it to church to have their foreheads marked with ashes.

"We can't stay locked in our churches," said Roman Catholic Bishop of Tucson Geral Kicanas. "We have to go out into the peripheries where the people are."

Lent “is a time for our Christian community to recognize how we have sinned and how that affects the community, and how that affects our relationships,” according to the Reverend Vicki Hesse of St. Philips in the Hills Episcopal Parish in Tucson.

Ashes are drawn in a cross to symbolize the humanity and mortality of the faithful, and as a sign of repentance.

The theme of Pope Francis’ Lenten message this year is poverty, something that resonates with religious communities in Tucson.

“One of the things our Holy Father has emphasized in preparation for Lent is that we need to open our eyes and ears to hear the needs of the materially destitute, the morally destitute, and the spiritually destitute,” Kicanas said.

Like Pope Francis, Kicanas said he sees a great need to take faith outside the church.

Wednesday, Hesse will be among a small crew of people from St. Phillips out and about Tucson with ashes to go.

“Taking this forgiveness out into the world and allowing people the moment to pray with us and to experience God’s forgiveness, and to remember that we are the created, not the creator—it is a way of kind of resetting our moral compass,” said Hesse.

Ashes to Go is a great service, Kicanas said.

The Catholic Church in Tucson wants to imitate what Pope Francis is doing, particularly for the poor, he added.

“Going out to those who seem abandoned, or for whom this society seems to have little interest—that’s where the church should be,” Kicanas said.

Nearly one-third of Americans were raised Catholic, but according to a 2008 poll fewer than one-fourth of Americans identify as Catholic. Despite this, Kicanas described the Catholic community in Tucson as thriving.

“I think there’s a vibrancy in our parishes, an enthusiasm, a confidence and pride in being Catholic,” he said. “But there’s also a concern that some have not yet come to know the lord or they no longer see the lord as important in their lives.”

Thinking of the church as a sad or sullen place is not what the church should be, he added.

“The church is a joyful community. I think that’s one of the things the Holy Father keeps reminding us…When people come to church they want to be uplifted, they want to find some meaning," he said.

Hesse said she agrees that a vibrant spiritual community dwells in Tucson. That’s due to the city’s diversity in faith communities and cultures, she said. However she also expressed concern for those who have turned away from the church, especially for those who have been hurt by the church.

“I can’t apologize for the whole church but I’m sorry for the wounding because the church really is a place of love and compassion and forgiveness and grace,” Hesse said. “And so that’s what we hope to share on ashes to go.”

St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Parish will offer Ashes to Go at the following times and locations:

9 a.m. to noon at the Northwest corner of River Road and Campbell Avenue.
9 a.m. to noon at the Tohono transit center on North Stone Avenue.
9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Northwest YMCA 7770 N. Shannon Rd.
Noon to 2 p.m. at the Atria Campana del Rio at 1550 E. River Rd.
1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the Rillito River Park trail near River Road and Campbell Avenue.

First Christian Church also plans to offer Ashes to Go at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Speedway Boulevard, between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. or 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information call 299-6421 or 624-8695.