Hope afloat in Lenten time

Armando Gutierrez summed up the added meaning of Ash Wednesday for many Catholics this year as he rushed to make it to the midday Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church.

“For me, [the recession] is more of a reason to attend,” he said. “If I can serve people who are worse off than me, all the better.”

As the crippling recession forces more families below the poverty line and into local food banks and social service programs, many Catholics who marked the start of the Lenten season Wednesday with ash-marked foreheads and pastoral messages of hope said the burdens of economy weighed heavily on their minds this year.

“My sister got laid off last week and so she’s moving in with me. It’s stuff like that brings ‘service’ to a whole new level,” said Leslie Mitchell on her way to Holy Family. “I think we’re all looking for any kind of hope right now.”

In the 40 days leading up to Easter, Catholics celebrate Lent through sacrifice and introspection. Over the years, they have been given greater leeway in what form those exercises take, but this year, it’s been hard for many to escape the effects of a down economy.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, in his public release Wednesday, wrote that with the continued downward spiral of the economy, “we have truly been on a long Lenten journey over these past two years.”

“In prior years when life and our financial security were far more predictable, Lent meant that we could choose which special sacrifices we wanted to undertake — but just for six weeks, until Easter Sunday. And then back to normal. But now we have a new reality,” he continued.

That new reality has been trickling down into the collection plates, affecting local parishes as well.

Arturo Navarro, who oversees collections at Holy Family every Sunday, said parish giving was down at least 20% in recent months.

“The stress is higher,” he said.

“Everybody is really tight right now, even those who have jobs.”

Across town at the Holy Redeemer Church in Montrose, parishioners said that trials of economic hardships would likely drive people to lean more on the hopeful messages of Jesus Christ.

“No matter the economic conditions, I think we just have to turn over our lives to God, and continue to do so,” said Carl Cassara as he left the Mass.

“More and more, we have to rely on faith and family.”

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