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The Lenten season, a penitential period during which Christians prepare for the celebration of Easter, begins Wednesday with the observance of Ash Wednesday.

Traditionally a period of penance, reflection and almsgiving, Lent also is a popular time for communal and ecumenical services and events that set the stage for Holy Week and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter.

Once regarded as a time for fasting, Lent is seen today as an opportunity for more positive activity like reading the Bible, praying the Rosary or attending church services more frequently.

Here is a sampling of upcoming Lenten events.

Catholic parishes in Erie County's northern suburbs will sponsor a Lenten Lecture Series at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays beginning next week.

Dates, speakers, topics and locations are: Thursday, the Rev. John Mergenhagen of the St. Columban Retreat Center, "What Catholics Believe About Death and Life After Death," St. Benedict's Church, 1317 Eggert Road, Eggertsville; March 8, the Rev. James Monaco, St. Francis of Assisi Church, City of Tonawanda, "Why We Need Jesus," Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, 8500 Main St., Clarence; March 15, Monsignor Angelo Caligiuri, Infant of Prague Church, Cheektowaga, "Why Confess Your Sins to a Priest," St. Gregory the Great Church, 100 St. Gregory Court at Maple Road, Amherst.

Also, March 22, Monsignor John C. Weimer, Buffalo State College Newman Center, "The Day Christ Died," St. Christopher's Church, 2660 Niagara Falls Blvd., Town of Tonawanda; March 29, the Rev. Gary Bagley, diocesan youth director, "Authentic Spirituality: Learning How to Love the Questions," Blessed Sacrament Church, 263 Claremont Ave., Town of Tonawanda; and April 5, the Rev. Joseph Gatto, Christ the King Seminary, "Are Catholics Saved," SS. Peter and Paul Church, 5480 Main St., Williamsville.

St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 576 Delaware Road, Kenmore, and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 2669 Sheridan Drive, Town of Tonawanda, will conduct joint worship services at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays during Lent beginning with a service during which ashes will be distributed Wednesday at St. Mark's. The services will alternate between the churches.

A "Lenten Prelude" service will be held at 3 p.m. March 4 in Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral Polish National Cathedral, 6298 Broadway, Lancaster.

The program will feature music of the Lenten season presented by the Cathedral Harmonia Choir, the Cathedral Bell Choir and the Worshiping Brass Ensemble. The public is invited. A free-will offering will be taken.

A six-week "Life in the Spirit" series will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Sundays beginning March 4 in Annunciation Catholic Church, 7580 Clinton St., Elma.

The speakers will be the Rev. Peter Karalus, parochial vicar at St. Gabriel's Parish, Blossom; Deacon Dennis Kapsiak of Annunciation; Deacon Michael McKeating of Fourteen Holy Helpers, West Seneca; and the Rev. Gordon Sweat, pastor of Refuge Temple of Christ, Niagara Falls.

"Christ Is Among Us" will be the theme of the annual "Lenten Journey," involving 15 Niagara Falls-area Catholic churches, at 7 p.m. Wednesdays during Lent.

Dates, parishes and topics will be: March 7, St. John de LaSalle, 8469 Buffalo Ave., "Eucharist: Center of Our Faith;" March 14, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 2486 Grand Ave., "Doing Eucharist;" March 21, Holy Trinity, 1419 Falls St., "Eucharist: Come Let Us Adore Him;" March 28, St. Joseph's, 1413 Pine Ave., "Eucharist: Strength for the Weak and the Week;" April 4, St. Teresa's, College and Macklem avenues, "Healing of Memories"; and April 11, Prince of Peace, 1055 N. Military Road, "Healing of Our Souls -- Service of Reconciliation."

"Jammin' With Jesus" will be the theme of a series of Lenten song, prayer and healing services at 7 p.m. Saturdays beginning next weekend in St. Simon's Episcopal Church, 200 Cazenovia St.

The services will feature the music of "Fishgate," a contemporary Christian music group based at Resurrection Life Fellowship, Cheektowaga. Members of the International Healing Order of St. Luke the Physician also will participate.

The Felician Sisters will sponsor a Women's Lenten Retreat the weekend of April 6-8 at Villa Maria Convent, 600 Doat St., Cheektowaga. To register, call Sister Mary Therese Chmura at 892-4141.

A series of presentations on "Intimacy With Jesus" will be offered at 7 p.m. on the Thursdays of Lent in St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Church, 157 Cleveland Drive, Cheektowaga.

Dates and speakers are: Thursday, the Rev. Anthony Rigoli, parochial vicar at St. Rose of Lima Parish, Buffalo; March 8, the Rev. Richard Coveny, pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Colden; March 15, Monsignor Vincent Becker, pastor of St. Martin's Parish, Buffalo; March 22, Tom and Jean Noonan, lead couple for the diocesan Pre-Cana Program; March 29, the Rev. Richard Zajac, chaplain at Sisters Hospital, Buffalo; and April 5, the Rev. Leon Biernat, diocesan director for vocations.

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