NORTHFIELD — Catholics at St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish were advised to become closer with God as they gathered on Ash Wednesday.

For Christians, the day marked the beginning of the 40-day period of Lent leading up to Easter on April 20. Catholics, Episcopalians and members of several other denominations receive ashes upon their foreheads in the sign of the cross.

“Repent and believe in the Gospel,” said the Rev. Patrick J. Mangan, the visiting priest. “Remember that you are dust and into dust you are returned.”

Prayer, fasting and alms-giving are the three strengths of Lenten observance, Mangan said, “as ancient as Christianity itself, and there is no substitute for it. Faith is the soul of prayer, and mercy is its lifeblood.”

On this Ash Wednesday, he said, “given to you and me by God’s provenance is a chance for a new beginning. ... Let’s take that chance and begin this day to follow the Lord with all our heart and all our soul.”

Tim Wainwright of Northfield, a lieutenant with the Margate Fire Department, was there with his daughters Alivia, 6, and Ella, 2.

“We come every year,” Wainwright said. “Especially now that (Alivia) is in CCD.”

So what is he giving up for Lent?

“Me, I’m probably giving up sodas,” he said.

The Stunda family, of Northfield, had to think when asked what they were giving up. Jeremy, 6, went with chocolate, while J.J., 8, after much consideration, also went with chocolate. As for their father, Jim: “My phone, supposedly.”

Aixell Mercedes, of Linwood, said she was giving up sweets, though her daughter, Aixell Perez, 6, could only shrug.

One parishioner gave an enigmatic answer when asked what she was giving up.

“What I wanted to do, my family talked me out of,” she said.

What was that?

“A vow of silence.”

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.