Millions of Christians worldwide took time out Wednesday to observe Ash Wednesday and mark the start of Lent, the season in which the faithful reflect on their lives and the world around them.

In lower Manhattan, Tom Riccardi, 52, of Northport, who works near Ground Zero, received ashes at Trinity Church on Church Street several blocks away.

Remembering his two deceased brothers and his Catholic upbringing, Riccardi, a father of four, said it was a solemn moment to receive the sign of the cross with ashes and hear the words: "For you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Riccardi said getting ashes at the start of Lent is "a way to teach my kids. It's tough out there," he said, holding his hard hat under his arm. "People are starving. People can't find jobs and this is a way to hope for a better world."

Also stepping out of Trinity Church Wednesday morning was Frances Gianniello of Staten Island, a longtime downtown office worker who remembered the lives lost on 9/11.

"It's that time of year to reassess our beliefs," she said. "As a Catholic, I usually give up meat and reserve Fridays for fish. I hope for a better world and, God willing, there will be peace. I was part of 9/11 and it's still scary. Every day when I get on the bus I pray that God may give me strength to do the right thing."

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Lent is the season in which Christians prepare for Easter, the observance of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The faithful are asked to fast as a reminder of the hungry and to share with those in need.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Ash Wednesday morning helped feed homeless people at St. Francis of Assisi Church in midtown Manhattan. The cardinal later celebrated noon Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Hundreds packed noon Mass at St. Peter's Church, New York's oldest Roman Catholic parish, in lower Manhattan. The Rev. Joseph Tyrell told them Lent should encourage them to attend weekly Mass. "It's a good way to love the Lord and if we love the Lord we will avoid sin."

Reyna Rodriguez, 53, of Queens, who tries to attend Mass during her lunch hour several times a week, said Wednesday's Mass "lifted my spirits. We hope for a better economy and world peace and a healthy baby," she said gesturing to her daughter Priscilla, 27, who is expecting a baby in May.