Christians across the Los Angeles region joined those worldwide to mark Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holy season that leads up to Easter.
For many, the next 40 days is a time of focus, prayer, sacrifice and introspection.
But for Roman Catholics, who streamed steadily into churches to receive a sign of the cross in ash across their foreheads, this Lenten season could be especially memorable because of Pope Benedict XVI's historic announcement Monday that he is resigning.
By Easter on March 31, Catholics may have a new pope.
"We don't know what to expect," said Atwater Village resident Emma Pe. "No pope resigns like this."
Pe and her friend Maria Teresa Galindez sat outside the courtyard of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, waiting to pass out prayer pamphlets to worshippers.
Both said they liked Pope Benedict but wondered how the Catholic Church will evolve under his successor.
"This time of year is special for us and is always meaningful," said Galindez, of Glendale. "But I'm still surprised and sad (Pope Benedict) is leaving."
Earlier this week Los Angeles Archbishop Jos Gomez posted a statement on his Facebook page, calling the 85-year-old pope's decision to resign "a beautiful, Christ-like act of humility and love for the Church."
By mid-March, 118 cardinals will converge on Vatican City for a conclave to choose Benedict's successor.
John Moreno, 59, of Los Angeles said the new pope needs to emphasize honesty, especially after recent revelations and newly released files show that retired Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles archdiocese shielded alleged pedophile priests.
"Benedict did his job, but I think (the Vatican) will try to pick someone like Pope John Paul II," Moreno said. "I think what the priests should do is be honest with us and each other. If they have done something wrong, they should say it. If we do something bad, we have to confess it. I believe if they confess to the people, the people will come back."
At St. Joseph's Church in Fontana, parishioner Virginia Coronado said the next pope should be someone who is prepared to listen.
"He needs to be a little bit broad- minded," Coronado said. "He needs to evaluate every issue going on."
She also said the sex abuse scandal was something that should be addressed in the open.
"If you brush something under the rug, it's going to come out," Coronado said.
Rick Breceda of Fontana agreed.
"He (the new pope) should just make a change in the church to deal with that," Breceda said. "If he does that, he's done a lot."
At Holy Family Church in South Pasadena, the Rev. Niall O'Leary urged parishioners to "walk with the Lord" for the next 40 days.
"With all sorts of `nasties' going on in the world, we're certainly not an example, are we?" O'Leary said. "So we've got to pray, slow down a little, open up the heart more than the mind."
For parishioner Christina O'Connell, 31, of South Pasadena, Ash Wednesday ushers in more than 40 days of Lent and self-denial.
"It's less about giving up food and all the things that people say it is, it's about giving up some of your other vices that you have within yourself," she said.
Regarding the pope's resignation, O'Connell said Catholics must trust he acted for the right reasons and that "someone will come and help to lead the church throughout these hard times.
Parishioner Alva Marsh, 81, of Los Angeles said he too has been distressed over continuing sex-abuse allegations against Catholic clergy.
"I think we have a ways to go," Marsh said after Mass. "We have to renew our faith and learn a great deal about our faith, especially since the pope has resigned. There are questions about that and so many questions concerning what the Catholic Church is facing."