Students begin Lenten season with reflection

Today Northwestern’s Catholic community will observe Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season.

During Lent, which lasts 46 days until Easter on April 4, students give up something they would normally take for granted.

At least 1,000 people, including 500 to 600 undergraduates, are expected at today’s Catholic services, said John Kartje, chaplain and director of the Sheil Catholic Center.

Religion major Joe Paolelli said the holiday remembers the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. On Ash Wednesday, churchgoers receive a cross of ash on their foreheads as a mark of the holiday.

“The ashes serve as a sign of a visible commitment to your faith,” the Weinberg junior said. “We don’t always have that.”

Kartje said the ash is not meant as a “morose or gloomy sign.”

“For Christians, it sends (the message) that there’s a part of us that is eternal,” he said.Weinberg junior Nikki Okrah said she will distribute ashes during services today as part of her job as a Eucharistic minister. She said she will try to pray more, be more positive and give up sweets during Lent.

“It does build habits,” Okrah said. “It gives us time to reflect and kind of look at our life.”

Students can attend events at Sheil throughout Lent, including a Feb. 23 fireside with University President Morton O. Schapiro. The discussion, titled “The Impact of Faith in the Life of a University Student,” will focus on how students can integrate faith into their education.

“Faith gets left on the back burner,” Maria Benson, a Communication junior, said. “It’s good to have a talk and recognize that and not let it get lost in the confusion once you come to college.”

Benson is a member of the Sheil Steering Council, which plans outreach programs.

The center will also host a hunger banquet tonight, during which each student draws a card with the name of a country before sitting down. He or she is then served a dinner that represents a typical meal in that country. Some students may have a large American meal, while others may receive a plate of rice, Kartje said.

“It’s meant to encourage solidarity with poorer countries of the world and have a real experience of the way resources are unevenly divided,” Benson said. “It gives you a really visual experience of the differences.”

The Lenten season has the highest participation of any Catholic service on campus, Kartje said.

Sheil encourages students to reflect spiritually, engage in some type of fasting and donate to a charity or get involved with volunteer work, he said.

“Students do take advantage of the opportunity to be a little more reflective of their own spiritual journeys,” Kartje said. “It’ll always be some students who just have an awakening, and that will stay with them even after Lent ends.”

Lent is a reminder humans are mortal, and college is a time to explore faith and access a deeper education Paolelli said.

“People get distracted and get wrapped up in their own problems,” he said. “They don’t address the real problem in life: why we’re here.”[email protected]@u.northwestern.edu