Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Aime Lykins

BREMERTON, Washington – Sailors aboard USS John C. Stennis’ (CVN 74) participated in two simultaneous Ash Wednesday Celebrations presented by a collaboration of the ship’s command religious ministries department (CRMD) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68), March 1.

The services were held during the lunch hour in a berthing barge used to provide living and workspace as well as basic services during the ongoing maintenance period and were open to all hands, regardless of their religion or faith practice.

The Catholic service was lead by Lt. Patrick Riffle, from Washington, D.C., Nimitz’s Catholic priest, and the Protestant service was lead by Cmdr. Carey Cash, from Memphis, Tennessee, John C. Stennis’ command chaplain.

“During this service, Christians receive ashes on their foreheads as a sign of remorse and repentance,” said Cash. “The ashes are a symbol of human frailty and dependence on God. The ceremony invites followers to examine their hearts as a way to deepen their faith practice.”

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Christian-faith-based season of Lent, a 40-day period to prepare believers for Easter Sunday.

Cash added that two of the three primary Lenten practices, the first being the imposition of ashes, are exercising spiritual discipline through fasting in order to deepen one’s awareness of human need and the adoption of new practices to create space for God in a believer’s life.

“This is my first time [attending] Ash Wednesday service in the Navy,” said Yeoman 3rd Class Justin Hewitt from Louisville, Kentucky, who read from the gospel of Mark during the Protestant service. “This year I plan to give up pork and explore keeping Kosher.”

The Catholic service included readings from the congregation, the sacrament of Holy Communion and the imposition of ashes.

“This is a period of renewal,” said Father Riffle. “Personally, it’s kind of a period of hitting the reset button on our lives and start over, kind of like a new year’s resolution. As Catholic-Christians, it is a chance for us to renew and recommit to our faith.”

Riffle is one of 46 Catholic priests in the Navy and Marine Corps. He is the only active-duty priest in the Navy Region Northwest and for Carrier Strike Group 11. He performs Mass aboard USS Nimitz and assists with Mass for Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

Navy chaplains perform religious ceremonies of their own faiths, facilitate observances through lay leaders for faiths without chaplains available and provide support services to Navy personnel regardless of faith background.

John C. Stennis is conducting a planned incremental availability (PIA) at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, during which the ship is undergoing scheduled maintenance and upgrades.

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