Pope Francis is marking Ash Wednesday with prayer and a solemn procession between two churches on one of ancient’ Rome’s seven hills.

The day begins the Catholic church’s annual Lenten period of reflection in preparation for Easter. The day’s rituals include rubbing ashes on the head of faithful in a reminder of mortality.

Cloaked in purple vestments, Francis clutched his pastoral staff as he walked in procession in the fading afternoon sun. Recent warm weather helped flowers bloom on the Aventine Hill.

At the end of the few minutes of procession, and as a choir sang, Francis strode into St. Sabina’s Basilica, a 5th-century church that is considered among the most beautiful in Rome.

Francis was set to deliver a homily and put ashes on faithful in the basilica.