efe-epaSan Juan Sacatepequez, Guatemala

Hundreds of Guatemalan Indians started Lent by celebrating Christ's resurrection, love and mercy on Wednesday, as a prelude to 40 days of prayer, fasting, abstinence and charity.

Before dawn, the residents of San Juan Sacatepequez, mostly of indigenous descent, made their way to the church to receive the sign of the cross on the forehead in preparation for Easter.

The faithful, mostly women and Indians, gathered to receive their ashes dressed in traditional garments and woven veils, reflecting on the priest's words that say "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The fact that Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine's Day this year did not go unnoticed by the priest, who said it was a day to celebrate true, as opposed to ephemeral, love.

The ashes distributed among parishioners are made from the palms used on Palm Sunday.

In the park outside - filled with flower vendors - dozens of people started their daily routine with a cross of ash on the forehead.