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The Most Rev. Timothy P. Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, conducted Ash Wednesday services for patients, families, staff and visitors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) on Feb. 13.

Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, marks the beginning of the 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting symbolizing the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, and ending with Holy Week, observing the death and resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. The name Ash Wednesday comes from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads to represent mourning and repentance to God.

Rear Adm. Alton L. Stocks, WRNMMC commander, welcomed the archbishop to Walter Reed Bethesda, and thanked him "not only for what he does for us and our community, but also for what he does for service men and women around the world."

As head of the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services (AMS) since January 2008, Broglio oversees the pastoral ministries and spiritual services of military members and beneficiaries at more than 220 installations in 29 countries, patients in 153 Veterans Affairs medical centers, and federal employees serving outside the boundaries of the United States in 134 countries. The AMS was created by Pope John Paul II in 1985 and is based in Washington, D.C. Broglio, the fourth Archbishop of the Military Services, USA, is responsible for the spiritual well-being of more than 1.8 million military personnel and their families, according to the AMS website.

Before giving the Ash Wednesday mass, Broglio visited wounded warriors, their families and staff in the Military Advanced Training Center at WRNMMC, offering them his gratitude for their service, and words of inspiration. Later during the mass, the archbishop explained ashes placed on the foreheads of worshippers were gathered from the burning of palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday, as a sign of transformation.

"A marathon runner will tell you that a certain rigor and preparation are necessary if you want to get to the finish line. We need times of intense preparation in our spiritual life as well," said the archbishop. He explained this symbolic of Lent and the preparation for Easter.

"Lent, which begins as our foreheads are marked with ashes [and] indicate our desire for conversion, is characterized by charity and penance," Broglio said. "We take advantage of this acceptable time by allowing God's transforming grace to change us. This means we look not on what we have accomplished, but rather at what with divine grace, we can become."

The archbishop encouraged worshippers to become people of "authentic conversion with internal integrity and clear intentions. The ashes tell us that transformation is important. The ashes made from the joyful throngs of last year's Palm Sunday, look like ashes made from coal, paper or wood; you cannot immediately tell what they were beforehand. So it should also be with our plan for conversion.

"The practice of charity is also a hallmark of this time of grace," the archbishop continued. "There are many ways we can exercise this virtue. The hospital setting offers many opportunities to look after the good of neighbor, and present him or her with the face of the merciful Christ. The opportunities are daily, even under the weight of routine, the pressure of budget cuts, and the scrutiny of others; the hospital can be an instrument of a healing touch of a loving master."

Lent is also characterized by some form of penance and self-denial, Broglio said. "It is the abstention from some good or the engagement in some positive action with the finality of preparing for the Easter celebration. Fasting and penance serve to remind us we are on a pilgrimage; this world and our existence in this world will come to an end. Self-denial creates a desire for the fulfillment to which we aspire. It is also a concrete reminder that good is a means to a great end, and not an end in itself."

In many western societies, the idea of self-denial is foreign, Broglio said. "We are so accustom to having everything [with] buying it now and paying for it later, and [receiving] immediate gratification. The discipline of Lent, like that of the marathon runner, is an invitation to look beyond this world," he explained.

"We pray for those who are patients here, [and] the doctors, nurses, chaplains, staff and volunteers," Broglio said. "May this holy season, be a rich time for all of you."

Walter Reed Bethesda's Department of Pastoral Care remains committed to supporting the religious preference and spiritual needs of all patients, visitors and staff, officials said. In addition to daily Catholic mass, Protestant, Hindu and Muslim services are offered on base. For more information concerning Pastoral Care services at WRNMMC, call 301-295-1510.