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AT NOON WEDNESDAY, the church bells at Morris Chapel on University of the Pacific’s campus in Stockton rang as more than 20 people attended Ash Wednesday service.

Ash Wednesday is a day in the Christian year when people speak about God, confess sins, ask for help and guidance and have a reflective time period, said Ashley Love, a minster at Stockton’s First Presbyterian Church. It is the first day that marks the beginning of “Lenten” or Lent season that lasts 40 days.

People get ashes placed on their forehead in the shape of a cross on this day because it symbolizes that people were born from ashes and they will return to ashes when they die.

Students and staff line up to receive ashes during Ash Wednesday at University of the Pacific’s Morris Chapel in Stockton on Feb. 22, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Inside the chapel with her backpack next to her sat Tiana McCarthy, a sophomore at UOP who said it was her first time attending service on campus but found it convenient that she was able to receive ashes in between classes.

“I wanted to come to the later service, but I have lab, so I was able to come during my little break right now,” said McCarthy.

Halfway through the 30-minute service, Love and Kim Montenegro, the director of religious and spiritual life at UOP, began distributing ashes to community members, faculty, staff, and students.

Kim Montenegro, director of Religious and Spiritual Life at UOP, reads a prayer alongside Minister Ashley Love inside the Morris Chapel at University of the Pacific on Wednesday. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Senior Alexey Estrada, who walked quickly into the church just as the mass was ending, said she wasn’t aware that students could get their ashes on campus.

She said she was in between classes, and it was easier for her to take part in Ash Wednesday since she was already on campus.

Following the service, Love and Montenegro made their way to the Don and Karen DeRosa University Center, where they stood outside distributing more ashes.

Hanna Widlund, the religious and spiritual life coordinator at UOP, said the college does Ash Wednesday every year on campus and said there would be another service and an ash giveaway that afternoon at the chapel.

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.