VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has celebrated the Ash Wednesday ritual kicking off the Catholic Church's Lenten season, despite fears of coronavirus.

Francis and a long line of priests, bishops and cardinals processed through Rome's Aventine hill into the 5th century Santa Sabina basilica for the late afternoon Mass.

Neither the priests nor the faithful were wearing masks, but Rome has largely been spared Italy's outbreak so far.

In the Philippines — Asia's only majority Roman Catholic country — priests sprinkled ashes on the heads of the faithful rather than making the mark of the cross on their foreheads to avoid physical contact.

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