Pastor's Lenten journey begins on train platform early Ash Wednesday to distribute ashes
STRATFORD, Conn. (OSV NEWS) — If you're on a train platform at 5 a.m., chances are good you're waiting for your ride into the city for work. But if you're Father Peter Adamski, once a year, someone is at the train station at that early morning hour waiting for you.
Father Adamski, the pastor of St. James Parish in Stratford, has distributed ashes on the southbound platform of the Stratford Metro North train station every Ash Wednesday for the past four years. And he believes doing so is part of Pope Francis' call to meet the people where they are.
Part of that is to "smell like the sheep," Father Adamski said. "So here I am, smelling like a commuter."
This Ash Wednesday, Father Adamski stood in the 30-degree weather from 5 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., right before the first Mass of the day at St. James — which is about a 10-minute walk from the train station. Four years into this unique ministry, he had it down to a science: ashes in a plastic container, a chair, and a lamp for those who were commuting before the sun was even up. He also was dressed for the weather: coat, earmuffs, hat and mittens with holes in the thumb so he could keep his hands warm in between ash impositions.
Others might not be thrilled at waking up while it's still dark outside, but Father Adamski sees the opportunity to distribute ashes as a blessing.
"I wake up with a smile on my face," he said. "Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity for me to be your instrument as we begin this Lenten journey."
Father Adamski noted meeting people on the train platform was particularly important because many of them might not make it to Mass to receive their ashes otherwise.
"We have some good Catholics that have to travel a long distance to get to and from work, and they just won't have an opportunity to get their ashes today," Father Adamski told the Fairfield County Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport. "And so my being on the platform … I consider it to be a work of charity."
Father Adamski estimates about 30 to 50 people each year come to get their ashes from him at the train station. Notably, this year, in addition to the commuters, a train conductor and a cashier at a nearby coffee shop visited him on the platform to receive their ashes. But Father Adamski doesn't discriminate — commuter or not, if someone wants ashes, they will receive them.
Father Adamski primarily stands on the train platform to distribute ashes to Catholics on an important day in their liturgical year. But he also believes his presence sends a valuable message of evangelization to non-Catholics standing on that very same platform.
"I think that it communicates the power of our church," he said Feb. 22. "I've had Baptist people come up to me and say, ‘Wow, look at you, Father.' It makes our church very real and very present to everyone that comes on this platform today."
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics wear a testament to their faith on their sleeves — or, more aptly, on their foreheads. And to Father Adamski, it gives them the opportunity to evangelize and share their faith in a way they might not normally.
"We don't just put a dab on your forehead; we do the ashes in the sign of the cross: a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus," Father Adamski said. "Lots of people will see these people in Manhattan today — or on the train — and notice those ashes. And it'll get them to think, even if it's just for a brief moment, about God (and) about faith. And that's a beautiful thing."
By Rose Brennan, who writes for the Fairfield County Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport.