CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — At Holy Name Cathedral and many other Christian churches in Chicago, palms are being burned Tuesday in preparation for Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.

“In my other parish, we did not do this so, this is fun,” said Fr. Marek Smolka, associate pastor of Holy Name Cathedral.

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A palm burning service outside Holy Name Cathedral on Tuesday morning was a sign that Ash Wednesday and Lent are almost here. (WBBM/Bernie Tafoya)

Smolka has been a Catholic priest for more than 13 years, but this was the first time he has presided over a palm-burning service.

“It’s the reminder to us of who exactly we are as we burn those palms today, but also tomorrow we’re going to use them for Ash Wednesday as we begin our Lenten journey,” Fr. Smolka said.

The priest led the service in the courtyard of Holy Name Cathedral with about 50 students from Francis Xavier Warde school, some of whom at first coughed because they were in the path of the smoke from the steel pit where the palms were burning.

Holy Name Rector Fr. Greg Sackowicz said Lent is a time of repentance, change and conversion.

“I remember when I was a boy, in 4th grade, the sister asked us what we’re giving up for Lent. I said homework. I got in trouble,” Fr. Sackowicz said.

Fr. Sackowicz estimates up to 20 percent of parishes burn their own palms to make ashes. The rest buy ashes from a company that provides them.

Ash Wednesday is Feb. 14.