Vie de l'église

On Feb. 17, 82 people began a…

Every time Maria del Rosario Gomez gets to have a 15-minute call with her son, Jose Ruben Hernandez Gomez, she asks him, « My precious son, what did you eat today? »

Even though it’s challenging, she tries to send him $150 a month so that he can eat something better than what he is served at the Mesa Verde Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Processing Center, and share some of that food with others.

But the weekend before Lent started, Jose Ruben told her, « As the word of God says, ‘One does not live by bread alone,’  » quoting Matthew 4:4, where Jesus tells the devil in the desert, « One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. »

On Feb. 17, 82 people began a hunger strike at two central California immigration detention centers, protesting the facilities’ conditions and demanding their closure. Since then, numbers of hunger strikers have fluctuated as new people have joined and others have stopped due to health concerns. 

The hunger strike at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield and the Golden State Annex in McFarland follows a 10-month-long ongoing labor strike demanding that detained workers who undertake tasks such as cleaning dormitories and dining halls be paid California minimum wage instead of $1 a day.

In December, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined the GEO Group, the private prison company that operates Mesa Verde and the Golden State Annex, $104,510 for six violations of state codes at the Golden State Annex.

Minju Cho, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told NCR that in response to the labor strike, « ICE and GEO reacted with an intensity that belies the idea that [the voluntary work program] is actually voluntary. If it were truly voluntary, then folks could choose to stop participating in it at any time without consequence. » The ACLU is part of a coalition that is supporting advocacy efforts led by detained people. 

Throughout the labor strike, participants have alleged they have faced retaliation, including being placed in solitary confinement and receiving what they describe as « sexually abusive pat-downs. »

On Feb. 23, five hunger strikers filed a class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and GEO Group. In the lawsuit, the hunger strikers say that since they began their strike they have been denied access to worship services, family visitation and the detention center yard, and have been threatened with solitary confinement, or kept in dorm rooms that were painfully cold.

Through the hunger strike, participants are asking they be paid California minimum wage for the work they have completed, for safer working conditions, that they have free and accessible ways to communicate with loved ones, that the « sexually abusive » pat-downs end, and for GEO to comply with ICE’s detention standards, including those regarding receiving new clothing and footwear, prompt medical attention, and fresh and high quality food.

Asked for comment about the strike and the lawsuit, an ICE spokesperson told NCR the agency does not comment on ongoing or pending litigation.

In 2022, Mercy Sr. Joan Marie O’Donnell from Burlingame*, California, took part in an interfaith pilgrimage to every immigration detention center in California. She told NCR it was powerful to hear the stories of witnesses who came back to speak outside the facilities where they were detained.

At the Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex detention centers, O’Donnell said, « What they’re describing is expired food at meal times. They’re required to pay astronomical prices for items that they buy in their commissary. They receive inadequate medical care. They lack visitation opportunities with their loved ones. »

O’Donnell said she continues to be motivated to pray and advocate for immigrants in her retirement because of Isaiah 61’s promise of freedom for prisoners and the call in the constitution of the Sisters of Mercy to collaborate in acts of mercy. 

Gomez, Jose Ruben’s mother, is worried about the possibility of his deportation to Mexico. Jose Ruben came to the U.S. when he was 3 years old.

With Jose Ruben in detention, Gomez says he is not the only one who suffers. « I suffer so much that you cannot imagine it, » she said. Jose Ruben used to take her to Mass. Now, she prays constantly that God will take care of him. 

When asked about the spiritual life of detained Catholics in the two detention facilities, Chandler Marquez, spokesperson for the Diocese of Fresno, told NCR that the diocese has not been allowed to provide chaplaincy services in the two facilities since the beginning of the pandemic. The diocese had not known about the hunger strike and is not involved in the strikers’ advocacy. 

A deacon who is a chaplain for both detention facilities remains in contact with the facilities, and he has not been told he is allowed to return to serving Catholics detained in them, said Marquez.

When NCR asked why chaplaincy was restricted and when the Diocese of Fresno would be able to provide chaplain support again, a spokesperson for GEO group wrote, « We strongly reject these allegations. »

« Both the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center and Golden State Annex have dedicated facility chaplains on staff who administer religious programming and facilitate interactions with outside/volunteer ministry personnel who are allowed to visit in compliance with the CDC’s COVID-related visitation guidelines, » said the spokesperson. 

The GEO group spokesperson also said that their facilities provide access to legal services, recreational amenities, and « around-the-clock access to medical care » and that three meals a day are based on nutritional menus that are approved by a registered dietitian.

Regarding the allegation of retaliation, the GEO group spokesperson pointed to their grievance process and zero tolerance policy for staff misconduct. « Any alleged misconduct by GEO staff is promptly investigated and addressed, » they said.

Gomez said she is praying for Jose Ruben as he continues his hunger strike. « I know my son has a good heart and that he doesn’t do it just for himself, but for others, so that the situations in those detention centers change, » she said.

*Correction: The original version of this article misidentified Mercy Sr. Joan Marie O’Donnell’s hometown. We apologize for the error.

Vie de l'église

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge…

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Robert Taylor Jr. ruled Feb. 24 that a redacted version of the Maryland Attorney General Office’s report on child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore must be released publicly.

The judge ordered the attorney general’s office to redact more than 200 names from the report and submit it to the court by mid-March.

« Ever-aware of the pain endured by survivors of child sexual abuse, the archdiocese once again offers its sincere apologies to the victim-survivors who were harmed by a minister of the church and who were harmed by those who failed to protect them and who failed to respond to them with care and compassion, » said Christian Kendzierski, archdiocesan spokesman.

He made the remarks in a written Feb. 24 statement issued in response to Taylor’s ruling.

« As we said publicly last year, » Kendzierski continued, « we respect the court’s decisions in this matter and will continue to cooperate with the court and the Maryland attorney general’s office. The archdiocese continues to pray this report brings some measure of healing of the deep wounds caused by the scourge of child sexual abuse in the life of the church. »

In a letter sent to Catholics in the archdiocese Nov. 17, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori acknowledged information in the report would be a source of renewed pain for many, « most especially those harmed by representatives of the church. »

The report investigates 80 years of allegations of sexual abuse and the response by the archdiocese to those allegations.

According to a copy of his ruling posted by the Baltimore Sun, Taylor said 208 individuals in the report need to be notified that they are in the report and must have an opportunity to review sections of the report that pertain to them.

The proposed release of the attorney general’s report has prompted calls in the Maryland General Assembly to look again at the statute of limitations in civil cases. There is no criminal statute of limitations in Maryland for sexual abuse of minors.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, legislative advocacy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, issued a statement Dec. 19 indicating support for legislation that would prospectively eliminate statutes of limitation for civil litigation involving cases of child sexual abuse.

Similar legislation eliminating the statute of limitations for a minor victim of a human trafficking offense or federal sex offense to file a civil action to recover damage was signed into law at the federal level in September.

« That bipartisan federal legislation also allows individuals an unlimited amount of time to file civil litigation in future cases of child sexual abuse, » the state Catholic conference said.

Prospectively eliminating the statutes of limitations would affect cases of sexual abuse that occur now or in the future. It would not affect cases that happened in the past, retroactively. In general, the statute of limitations that applies in a case is the one that was in effect at the time of the abuse, not when it was reported.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore was one of the first in the country to publicly disclose the names of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse, even if they had not been criminally charged.

At that time, 57 men were named. Other names have been added in the intervening years as allegations became known. More were added in 2018 after a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed allegations that included some priests who had served in Maryland or cases where the alleged abuse occurred within the boundaries of the archdiocese.

In April 2019, an additional 23 names were added of priests who had been accused of child sexual abuse after they were deceased.

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A Year of Solidarity

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At the central Vermont church I…

At the central Vermont church I attend, in a stained-glass window that depicts the transfiguration, Moses has horns. When I researched why, I learned about the aurochs, a now extinct megacattle species, and discovered its « fearful powers » were a meaningful part of the faith of Israel, and still empower the church today. 

My church’s stained-glass window isn’t an anomaly. Moses is often depicted with horns. The most famous example is Michelangelo’s statue at the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome.

Moses’ horns are often explained as a mistake in biblical translation, because the Hebrew words for « rays » and « horns » are similar. St. Jerome used « horns » in the Vulgate, which is what survived in the Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition of the Bible: « And Aaron and the children of Israel seeing the face of Moses horned, were afraid to come near » (Exodus 34:30).

But there is good reason to think Jerome’s use of « horns » was intentional. Journalist Elon Gilad points to the Jewish tradition of portraying Moses with horns and suggests that as a resident of the Holy Land in dialogue with Jews, Jerome drew on that context.

Moses’ horns also point to a theological truth. In the biblical text and Hebrew tradition, horns are a symbol of royal and spiritual power.  

We see it in Psalm 18, what David sings after defeating Saul: « My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold! » In the New American Bible, the note reads: « My saving horn: my strong savior. The horn referred to is the weapon of a bull and the symbol of fertility. »

In the Bible, kings themselves are referred to as « horns, » particularly in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation (i.e., Daniel 7:7-8, 24; Revelation 5:6).

Early translations of Scripture often referred to a « unicorn, » but recent linguistic scholarship shows that these mentions most likely pointed to the now-extinct aurochs (Bos primigenius), a massive wild cattle species that stood up to six feet tall at the shoulder, weighed over a ton, withhorns up to 2.5 feet long.

Aurochs ranged through North Africa, Europe and Asia, including Palestine. The Hebrews, as nomadic people wandering in and out of aurochs land, saw their horns kill lions and hyenas and felt the aurochs’ great mating battles shake the earth, as evidenced in the Book of Job where God asks from the whirlwind if Job has the power to control the aurochs (Job 39:9-12).

Not surprisingly, ancient peoples hunted aurochs. The aurochs’ « strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied, » Julius Caesar described in his first century B.C. The Gallic Wars. He continued, « These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them. The young men harden themselves with … this kind of hunting. »

The horns served as a kind of totem as « those who have slain the greatest number of them, having produced the horns in public, to serve as evidence, receive great praise, » said Caesar. They « anxiously seek after » the horns, « and bind at the tips with silver, and use as cups at their most sumptuous entertainments. »

Hebrews used horns as cups, too, but in a sacred manner: « You have given me the strength of a wild ox; you have poured rich oil upon me » (Psalm 92:11, also 1 Samuel 16:13, 1 Kings 1:39).

The shofar, an instrument made of animal horn, was traditionally used to announce the beginning of the Sabbath, the new moon, the anointing of a king and in battle.

Peoples of the ancient Near East saw in the horn not just an object but the essence of the animal from which it came. They deeply identified with animals. This is true of Israel and the aurochs.

Toward the end of their 40-year Exodus journey through the desert, Balak, the King of the Moabites, asked Balaam to curse Israel. Instead, after ceremonies of sacrifice of bulls and rams, Balaam repeatedly blessed them, twice declaring, « They have the like of a wild ox’s horns » (Numbers 23:22, 24:8).  

Just before he died, Moses sang a long song and blessed the people. Expanding on Balaam’s vision of Israel having the aurochs’ power, Moses says the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh have the horns of the aurochs’ with lyrics that even more so apply to him: 

His firstborn bull, majesty is his!
His horns are the horns of a wild ox;
With them he gores the peoples,
attacks the ends of the earth. (Deuteronomy 33:17) 

No wonder Moses, who the Lord strengthened « with fearful powers » (Sirach 45:2) — to confront Pharaoh, to lead the people out of slavery and through the sea and desert, to be the only one to see God and live — had horns. 

Gilad fleshes out the spiritual power of Moses’ horns to battle evil spirits in the Jewish tradition with a couple of ancient poems, such as « The Lord Lowered the Sky to Sinai, » an Aramaic poem from about the time of Jerome. « I placed horns of majesty on your head so that if an angel comes near, you will gore him with them, » « I will not descend, I will not descend, » Moses chanted in a 9th-century poem in Hebrew, « Until I prove myself a hero, until I gore your bodies with my horns. »

As I was researching the horns of Moses, horns unexpectedly emerged from the very ground I was standing on. At the time, I was also researching an old granite church in Newport, Vermont, St. Mary Star of the Sea. A couple of longtime parishioners told me stories about its construction in the early 1900s as we stood in front of the church and looked over the U.S.-Canadian border at the mountains of Quebec.

Granite for the church came from quarries at least two miles away and the stone had to be hauled by animals. During the construction, an ox, upon finishing the long walk from one of the quarries to the church site, collapsed where the front stairs now stand. Unable to move it, the laborers buried it there.

The story cast me back to the Temple in Jerusalem, where the sacrifice of horned oxen and rams was an essential part of liturgies. Like Moses, horns adorned the four corners of two altars of the Temple, one altar for the twice daily sacrifice of incense and the other for the sacrifice of oxen and rams.

I was fascinated. If the Newport parish ox story is true — and I think that it is — St. Mary Star of the Sea stakes a greater claim to its Temple ancestor than maybe any other church in the world, containing within it a sacrifice of the Old Temple, an ox that gave its life to build the church.

I also felt the energy of something giving voice to a hidden presence that has never left. Something like the chant of Moses on Sinai in the 9th-century Hebrew poem: « I will not descend, I will not descend. »

Pope Benedict reminded us in The Spirit of the Liturgy that along with the synagogue, the Temple is the most important source for the structure and imagery of church buildings. The imagery of horns has fallen away, perhaps because the theology of the early church developed in a largely urban culture, far from the land on which the ancestors of the faith lived and worshiped.

Perhaps it’s no accident that in returning to the Holy Land, St. Jerome saved this remnant and is showing our connection to « fearful power » — that of Moses on Sinai goring evil spirits, of Israel goring the nations with aurochs horns and of centuries of prayer offered up at the Temple of Jerusalem.

There’s more to the story. My research continues, turning now to focus on what might be an even more compelling reason to see horns depicted in a church: Jesus, the mighty horn of salvation (Luke 1:69).

Vie de l'église

Scripture for Life: Jesus’…

« Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. » Now that’s a mind-blowing sentence!

Was Jesus really tempted? Doesn’t temptation imply a confusion or indecisiveness that seems uncharacteristic of Jesus? Was he really that human? Another question: Why did the Spirit lead Jesus to temptation? Didn’t Jesus teach us to beg God not to do that?

In response to the first question, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all clearly say that Jesus experienced temptation in the desert. These three Gospels, called synoptic because they follow a similar pattern, paint a very human portrait of Jesus. John, in contrast, portrays Jesus as keenly aware of his divine origin and destiny.

In addition, the word tempt has two related meanings: to put one to the test, or to manipulate someone in an effort to coach them into wrongdoing. Our opening line includes both definitions: The Spirit led Jesus to test his identity; the devil attempted to manipulate him to be untrue to it.

What is at play here — and in the whole of the Gospels — is Jesus’ identity as son of God. Matthew began his Gospel with the genealogy, a description of Jesus’ origins in the people of God. Now diabolos (the proper name of the chief of the demons) comes to direct him about how to fulfill his vocation among them.

We should note that this scene comes immediately after Jesus rose from baptism and heard the voice of God say, « This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. » It seems that, following his choice to be baptized, Jesus’ experience of the Spirit impelled him to explore and clarify what it meant to be son of God. Baptism led him to confront everything implied in the word temptation.

The temptations are archetypal with a great variety of interpretations and applications. For today, we might see them as tapping into the same confusing desires the snake used to snag Eve and Adam.

In the Genesis story, the snake told Eve that eating the forbidden fruit would make her/them like gods. The serpent mastered them, not because they were proud, but because they failed to recognize that they were already like the God who had breathed life into them and created them in the divine image. They got caught in a frenzy of trying to achieve for themselves what they had already been given for free.

Diabolos, a one-hit wonder, tried the same trick on Jesus. The first two temptations begin with the phrase, « If you are son of God, » with the implication that the tempter could define what that meant. The third temptation drops all pretense of faithfulness and offers an alternative life. We might think of them this way:

Diabolos: « If you are son of God, get the rocks out of your head! Hunger, thirst, and dependence on others are beneath you! »

Jesus: « A son of God revels in relationship. Both sides feed on the risk of being vulnerable to want and thus find greater fulfillment. »

Diabolos: « If you are the true son, God should keep you safe, even from your own pretentious foolishness. »

Jesus: « A son of God seeks God’s will — and that’s worth dying for. »

Diabolos: « Forget this God business! Look around and admit it. Mine is the only power that runs the world.

Jesus: « Stay in your own hell if you wish. I have no power to stop you. »

Jesus’ temptations were not a one-time event, nor simply an experience in the desert and then the Garden of Gethsemane. In some form, they summarize all the ways he and any of us can distort our vocation to be images of God.

Diabolos’ insistence that we need to assure our own bread and security diverts our attention from the truth that when anyone is hungry or in danger, not only are all in need, but all have the ability to respond in a way that privileges solidarity over selfishness.

Diabolos’ suggestion that religion is meant to be our safety net perverts Christianity, prioritizing self-preservation over self-giving. The appeal to raw power promotes the sham of fear-induced unity and control; it betrays and rejects the ways of the God of love. Most of all, it cannot endure.

As we begin this Lenten season, let us pray that we may recognize and reject the ways we, our church and our society, are continually tempted to betray our vocation to be images of God. Lent is our time to reappropriate our own baptismal commitment and to confront and expose Diabolos’ machinations. In the end, we hope to join Jesus in telling Diabolos, « Dwell in your hell. We’ve got a better option. »

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Silver Rose Program Celebrates Life

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The Biden administration Feb. 21…

The Biden administration Feb. 21 proposed its most restrictive border control measure to date, announcing it plans to issue a temporary rule blocking asylum-seekers who cross the border without authorization or who do not first apply for protections in other nations before coming to the United States. Catholic immigration advocates condemned the proposal.

The proposed rule would introduce a « presumption of asylum ineligibility for certain noncitizens » and instead “encourage migrants to avail themselves of lawful, safe and orderly pathways into the United States, » according to the text of the document. Otherwise, it said that migrants should « seek asylum or other protection in countries through which they travel, thereby reducing reliance on human smuggling networks that exploit migrants for financial gain. »

U.S. immigration policy generally differentiates those fleeing persecution in other countries from other migrants who cross the border unlawfully. The proposal, which the administration has characterized as temporary, would scale back that approach.

The move comes as Republicans have made immigration and border security a key point of contention with the Biden administration, and as the primary cycle for the November 2024 presidential election begins in earnest. Biden, a Catholic Democrat, is widely expected to seek a second term in the White House.

The proposed rule will first be subject to a 30-day public comment period before it could be formally implemented.

The U.S. bishops, however, voiced concern the rule would impose punitive restrictions on the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. In a statement, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said the USCCB is « deeply troubled by this proposal, which perpetuates the misguided notion that heavy-handed enforcement measures are a viable solution to increased migration and forced displacement. »

« Decades of similar approaches have demonstrated otherwise, » Seitz said. The El Paso bishop said the U.S. bishops have recognized « our country’s right to maintain its borders, » but have « consistently rejected policies that weaken asylum access for those most in need of relief and expose them to further danger. »

« Because that is the likely result of this proposal, we strongly oppose its implementation, » Seitz said.

He added that while the USCCB appreciates the administration’s « desire to expand lawful pathways to the United States, especially through increased refugee processing, » he emphasized those efforts should not take place « at the expense of vulnerable persons urgently seeking protection at our border. »

« Above all, the sanctity of human life remains paramount, » he said.

Biden administration officials, however, said the proposed rule would incentivize lawful migration.

« We are a nation of immigrants, and we are a nation of laws, » Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

« We are strengthening the availability of legal, orderly pathways for migrants to come to the United States, » he said, « at the same time (we are) proposing new consequences on those who fail to use processes made available to them by the United States and its regional partners. »

Mayorkas said providing individuals a « safe, orderly and lawful path » to the U.S. makes them less likely « to risk their lives traversing thousands of miles in the hands of ruthless smugglers, only to arrive at our southern border and face the legal consequences of unlawful entry. »

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Department of Justice, which exercises oversight of the U.S. immigration courts, is establishing temporary rules for asylum eligibility to be in place once the Biden administration lifts the Title 42 public health order.

« We look forward to reviewing the public’s comments on this proposed rule, » he said.

Other Catholic immigration advocates, however, joined with the USCCB in sharply criticizing the proposal.

« The ban unfairly targets those fleeing from northern Central American countries, for whom the administration has provided no parole options, » Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, said.

« There is nothing but a lack of courage preventing this administration from taking positive steps now to repudiate the damage of the previous administration and finally put in place a functioning, safe, rights-respecting system at the border that works for asylum-seekers and our border communities, » he said.

Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., or CLINIC, said, “In continuing with this rule, the Biden administration is betraying its own commitment to uphold asylum, as well as violating the principles of U.S. law and Catholic social teaching with respect to migration. »

CLINIC compared the proposed rule to an “asylum ban » issued by the Trump administration, which was later struck down by a federal court.

« The right to seek asylum through a full and fair process is a bedrock principle of international and domestic law, » Gallagher said. « These new restrictions undermine that right and will have inhumane and horrific consequences for our immigrant brothers and sisters. »

Ronnate Asirwatham, director of government relations at Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, said the Biden administration was « ending the right to seek asylum on our southern border. »

« (The) success of our southern border, » Asirwatham said, « should not be measured by the number of people we turn away to death and persecution, but by the number of people we welcome to safety. »

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Pray, Fast and Give for Ukraine

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Pope Francis has essentially…

Pope Francis has essentially nationalized all assets and property owned by Vatican departments and affiliated institutions, declaring them to be sovereign patrimony owned by the Holy See and not any individual or office.

The action outlined in a new law published Feb. 23 marks Francis’ latest initiative to centralize Vatican assets so they can be managed properly, following years of mismanagement that led to huge losses and, prosecutors allege, criminal wrongdoing.

Francis previously stripped the Vatican’s secretariat of state of its 600 billion-euro ($635 billion) portfolio and ordered the assets transferred to the Vatican’s patrimony office following a scandal involving a 350 million-euro investment in a London property.

Vatican prosecutors have charged 10 people, including a cardinal, of defrauding the Holy See of tens of millions of euros through the London venture.

The new law makes clear that the Holy See owns any asset, security or property owned or acquired by a Vatican office or affiliated institution. This « ecclesiastic public property » is « entrusted » to individual departments to use but is destined for the universal needs of the church to fulfill its mission, the law states.

In previous stages of Francis’ financial reforms, the Vatican ordered all Vatican offices to submit to standardized annual budgeting and accounting measures. Individual offices, or congregations, were allowed to operate in financial silos before then.

The pope also centralized and overhauled the Vatican’s investment strategy to ban speculative investments and to prioritize prudent investing in industries that promote the common good.

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Wrapping up his three-day visit to…

Wrapping up his three-day visit to Poland Feb. 22, President Joe Biden attended Ash Wednesday Mass in his hotel room in Warsaw.

The Mass took place at the Marriott Hotel, where the U.S. president stayed during his trip to Poland’s capital, and was celebrated by a Polish priest, Fr. Wieslaw Dawidowski.

« Today, I join Christians worldwide in observing Ash Wednesday, » Biden wrote on Twitter. « The Lenten season is a time for reflection and discernment and an opportunity to recommit ourselves to God and to one another. »

« May we continue to keep the faith and look with hopeful hearts towards Easter, » the Catholic U.S. president added.

Social media users quickly observed a faded cross on the president’s forehead on the pictures from the Feb. 22 Bucharest Nine (B9) summit held at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw.

In Poland, ashes are sprinkled over one’s head, which left social media commentators surprised at the smear of ash on the president’s forehead during the official meeting hosted by Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Dawidowski, an Augustinian, shared his experience of the Ash Wednesday Mass with Biden on his Facebook page.

« Today is Ash Wednesday. Even the most powerful in this world take ashes — if they belong to the Catholic tradition, » Dawidoswki said. « I had the honor today of placing ashes on the forehead of the US President Mr. Joe Biden. »

The priest posted a photo of an improvised altar in a hotel room, the U.S. presidential seal, and himself with Biden.

« Everything took place in great secrecy, but now I can speak: in an improvised chapel, next to the President’s apartment, we prayed for peace, the conversion of Russia and the light of the Holy Spirit for Mr. President, » he wrote.

Dawidowski was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison during the time of martial law in communist Poland for his involvement in anti-communist movement. Martial law existed between Dec. 13, 1981, and July 22, 1983.

Biden concluded his three-day visit to Poland, which followed a Feb. 20 surprise visit to Ukraine, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, days before the Feb. 24 anniversary of Russia’s full scale invasion of the country.

During his visit to Poland, in a conversation with Duda, Biden recalled his meeting with St. John Paul II, which took place in the Vatican, at the beginning of Biden’s political career.

« At one point (John Paul II) said, ‘Senator, please remember that I spoke to you as a Pole, not as the pope. Then I understood the power of Poland, » Biden said, according to KAI news agency.

Biden’s suprise visit to Kyiv and the scheduled visit to Poland, marking one year of war in Ukraine, has been hailed by commentators as one of the foreign policy highlights of Biden’s presidency.