HOMEWOOD, Ala. (WIAT) — Ash Wednesday marks a time when Catholics and Protestants across the world come together to re-examine their lives and find ways to get closer to God.

They call it the New Year’s Eve of the Christian year, a time not only for making a resolution but having resolved to be Christ-like that is marked by a sign of the cross in ash on your forehead.

Wednesday night it was standing room only at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Homewood.

“It’s been something that the Catholic Church has observed for the whole of our history,” Fr. Justin Ward said. “It’s very exciting to see the resolve that people have at the beginning of this holy season to make a commitment, to see it through to Easter.”

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. It is a time of intense reflection for 40 days leading up to Holy Week.

Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood Senior Pastor Brian Erickson says there’s no magical power in the ash, but rather, a reminder.

📲 Get breaking news, traffic and weather alerts directly to your smartphone. Download the News 19 App

“They are such a powerful vehicle for us to remember the message of the Lenten season and ultimately the message of the empty cross in the tomb,” Erickson said.

Lent comes during a time of tragedy overseas from the thousands killed in Turkey and Syria by earthquakes this month to the war in Ukraine about to enter its second year.

“Lent is an honest opportunity to reconsider who we are in a broken world and who we want to be,” Erickson said.

The Rev. Katherine Harper at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Cahaba Heights calls it a journey of healthy recovery and healing.

“I think the most important thing to have a holy Lent is to open myself and yourself to times of more intentional prayer,” Harper said.

The tragedy overseas is mirrored in their recovery since three church members were tragically killed over the summer.  

“Even in the midst of loss and hardship we continue to pray,” Harper said. “Even when people have wronged us and done hard things, we’re not alone in that.”

This day is one of worldwide prayer and something that all three faiths say is the most unifying part.

“I want to do my part and be committed and know that God loves me and believe that when he says,” Ward said. “I think that’s the message the world wants to hear and that’s the message we start this holy season with.”

All three churches we spoke with said they have had in person attendance back to pre-pandemic numbers, and at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church the attendance Wednesday was even better than it was before the pandemic. Lent will continue to the week of Easter.