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By Malie Hudson

ash-wednesdayProhibited by the pandemic from close physical contact, parishes in the Diocese creatively found ways to distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday, traditionally one of the more well-attended church days of the year.

Just a few days prior to Ash Wednesday, Bishop Alberto Rojas announced that all parishes in the Diocese were once again allowed to celebrate Masses indoors and sent new directives to parishes. However, state orders required that church facilities were only allowed to have a 25 percent maximum occupancy.

In anticipation of larger crowds for Ash Wednesday services, most parishes stuck with their original plan of having their services outdoors.

At St. Francis de Sales Parish in Riverside, about 100 parishioners attended Ash Wednesday Mass at 7 a.m. The cold morning and state restrictions didn’t keep parishioners from practicing their faith on one of the important days of the liturgical year.

“It felt good to be able to come to Mass on Ash Wednesday and begin my Lenten journey,” said parishioner Kika Luafalealo.

Mass was held near a classroom building. Chairs were socially distanced and spread out into the parking lot. Father Louis Abdoo, Pastor, and two volunteers distributed ashes by using a fresh cotton swab for each parishioner. An usher offered hand sanitizer as parishioners entered and left Mass. The parish offered three Ash Wednesday Masses to accommodate everyone that day and also livestreamed each Mass for parishioners at home.

St. Patrick Parish in Moreno Valley offered a different approach to accommodate the various needs of their parishioners.

Parishioners were invited to pick-up a small container of ashes for their family at a drive-thru line in the parish parking lot. It contained ashes for a family of eight. A prayer resource and guide on how to distribute ashes among the family and how to properly dispose of extra ashes were also included. Mass was celebrated virtually at 8 a.m. that day and parishioners were invited to join online as they distributed their ashes among their family members at home.

There were three pick up times throughout the day. A steady flow of parishioners dropped by in the morning during the 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. pick-up slot.

“People have been very upbeat and very appreciative that we’re doing this,” said Father Rafael Partida, Pastor. One parishioner brought him coffee as they picked up their ashes. While another requested and received Confession. This method allowed him to spend a few moments with each parishioner, catching up with familiar faces or getting to know new ones.

The parish expected the 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. drive-thru times to have a bigger turnout for working professionals on break or returning home from work.

“We have parishioners who work in the medical offices nearby who will typically stop by midday during lunch hour,” said Parish Administrative Assistant Melissa Torres. “We’re trying to make this as safe as possible for everyone.”

Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.