Philippine politicians told not to stain Ash Wednesday

Catholic bishops warn poll candidates against turning start of Lent into a photo opportunity
Philippine politicians told not to stain Ash Wednesday

A lay minister smears ash on the foreheads of Catholics on Ash Wednesday as a sign of penance at the start of the Lenten season. ( file photo)

A Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines official has warned candidates in upcoming national elections in May not to use Ash Wednesday rituals to advance their political agenda.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is a day of prayer, fasting and repentance, falling on March 6 this year. It also falls slap bang in the middle of election season, as does Holy Week.

Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the conference’s social action secretariat, noted that in the past candidates have used the religious occasion for "photo opportunities." 

"This is a temptation for candidates this Lent as it provides an opportunity to be seen entering a church to show that they are pro-God," said the priest.

"Don’t get ash on your forehead if you are only after photo opportunities," said Father Gariguez, adding that the smearing of ash on the forehead is a reminder to everyone to repent for their sins.

"If that is not what is in your mind, you are being a hypocrite," he added.

In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, Catholics go to churches to hear Mass and have their forehead marked with ash.

Ash Wednesday comes from the practice of smearing ash on the forehead as a reminder and celebration of human mortality and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. 

The ashes used are typically gathered from the burning of palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila urged Catholics to mark their "Lenten journey" with almsgiving, fasting and prayer.

"Let us share what we have with the poor through acts of justice and charity called almsgiving," said the prelate of Manila in an Ash Wednesday message.

"Let's take care of our health, our hungry neighbors and creation by restraining our appetite through fasting," he added.

The cardinal said almsgiving, fasting and prayer "will help us leave behind unnecessary baggage on our Lenten journey with Jesus."

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