NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Christians around the world are beginning the Lenten season by observing Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day period of preparation for Easter. It’s a time of prayer, penance, and fasting.

The sign of the cross was brushed in ash on the foreheads of the faithful inside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral as the bells tolled outside, where CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock met John Flynn.

“It’s a time to recommit to the true Catholic sense of donation and giving to our brothers and sisters that don’t have,” Flynn said.

“Lent is a time to reflect on the year, reflect on everything that’s happened in my life, and sort of give back more than giving something up,” said Angela Bonavita. “I’m going to do something different this year.”

It’s the busiest day of the year at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. About 50,000 people will walk in. The line stretched to the back of the nave, out the door and down the sidewalk.

Monsignor Robert Ritchie, rector at St. Pat’s, says many people think the ashes are to show that they’re good Christians, but it’s not. It’s a reminder to oneself to take the next 40 days seriously.

As he draws the cross, you’ll hear him say “You are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

It’s a reminder of the importance of making a spiritual journey during lent.

“We are asked to prepare ourselves to greet the lord on Easter Sunday,” he said.

At St. John the Divine Episcopalian Church, Father Patrick Malloy told Murdock he tries to spend more time in silent reflection.

“Today is the beginning of people slowing down, really, and taking stock of their lives to prepare for the feast of Easter,” Malloy said. “Maybe give up busy-ness for Lent.”

He wants to feel God’s presence in his heart.

“It’s a renewal of my faith and to continue to serve God and believe in humanity,” said Astoria resident Marcia John.

“For me, it’s the perfect time to be Catholic again, like the new year for Catholicism,” said Bronx resident Diego Rodriguez.

Rodriguez plans to mark the season by giving something up – perhaps chocolate and wine. It’s a symbol of his devotion to Jesus Christ, who suffered greatly and sacrificed his life for all.

“I’ll use this as a reminder to avoid things that I might otherwise get into,” said Forest Hills resident Joseph Quinn.

“I want to fast away from negative energy and just be more optimistic,” said David Dupart.

“We all need to be kinder and gentler to one another, and the world will be a better place. And this is a good place to start,” said Arlene Goodheart.

That’s an important reminder always, but especially during the most holy time on the Christian calendar.

Lent ends on Easter Sunday, which falls on April 12th this year.

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