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After unusual Ash Wednesday, a return to normalcy in Baton Rouge churches

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BATON ROUGE - With the Mardi Gras floats put away for another year, the party turned to penance on Ash Wednesday.

A far cry from Carnival, Lent is a time to gather for prayer and repentance.

"It's a day that we are looking forward to not only for today, but as go forward throughout the Lenten season, and to remember the wonderful fruits that we will receiver, the grace we will receive when we get to Easter Sunday," said Deacon Richard Grant, the pastoral associate at Our Lady of Mercy.

It was standing room only inside St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge as the faithful lined up to get their ashes. It was a welcome return after COVID-19 upended everyday life.

"This year we are back to normal. We are getting ashes on the forehead, we're looking forward to a great 40 days of the Lenten season, ultimately ending with the high holy days of Easter," Grant said.

"Definitely not the case last year," Parishioner Walter Morales, said.

In 2020, parishioners received ashes from their car. In 2021 ashes were sprinkled over their head while masked.

"Somebody was sitting outside of a church, we just walked up," Parishioner Darla Vaugh, said, remembering the scene in 2021.

Now that COVID restrictions are lifted, some of the faithful are returning to church for the first time.

"My dad recently passed away, and he is a devout Catholic," Aisha Key said. "It makes it not only a part of my faith but also closer to him."

The ashes are a reminder, for the faithful, that we start as dust and we return to dust.

Lenten season ends on Easter Sunday.

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