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Press Photo by John Odermann Rev. Todd Kreitinger, the pastor at St. Patrick's Church in Dickinson says a prayer in front of the altar at the end of Stations of the Cross with the students at Trinity Elementary West at St. Patrick's Church Friday afternoon. Stations of the Cross is just one of the ways Catholics observe Lent.

Every year on Ash Wednesday Catholics depart on a 40 day journey, which ends on Holy Thursday.

That journey is called Lent, which is the liturgical season on the Roman Catholic calendar that signifies Jesus' journey through the desert prior to his crucifixion in Jerusalem by the Romans.

To the average person, Lent may seem like a time for Catholics to simply give up some sweets and eat fish on Friday's, but Rev. Todd Kreitinger, the pastor at St. Patrick's Parish, said it goes much deeper than that.

"In following Christ who went into the desert for 40 days and fasted and prayed, it's our way of spiritually following Christ in a similar way," Kreitinger said. "In a spiritual way it's our way of going into the desert to have a desert experience."

Kreitinger said Lent gives people an opportunity to step away from the busyness of life and reexamine things they otherwise wouldn't think about.

"It's when we are in those quiet desert experiences that we are most able to hear and respond to God," Kreitinger said.

Local Protestant churches also observe Lent in their own way, with special services during the week, but it tends to be associated with Catholics most of all, and especially on Fridays.

Go to a restaurant of a grocery store during Lent and you may see a noticeably larger stock of fish being carried.

Raymond Veverka, general manager at the Elks, said they see a definite increase in fish traffic over the six weeks of Lent on Fridays.

Kreitinger said there are several myths as to how the fish on Fridays tradition began ranging from a way for the church to turn around the fishing industry in the Middle Ages to fish being considered "low brow" and hence a sacrifice to eat instead of beef or pork.

In fact, up until the Second Vatican Council in 1962, eating fish was an every Friday practice; it wasn't until after Vatican II that it shifted to a Lenten practice.

Kreitinger said he's tried to find the origins of the tradition, but to no avail.

"One of my first Lents as a priest I was going to try to do that, but I just couldn't find a credible source," Kreitinger said with a laugh.

Mary Steiner, a fourth grade teacher at Trinity Elementary West, said the students at each of the Catholic elementary schools have gotten into the spirit of Lent.

Over the course of the six weeks of the season, Steiner's students are doing something different each week and in subsequent weeks are adding another step.

The first week of Lent the students we to say their favorite prayer everyday outside of school. Then in subsequent weeks they will choose to do their least favorite chore at home, do their homework without whining, give up their favorite video game, give up their favorite night of TV and then end Lent by taking over someone else's chore at home.

Steiner said she's used this approach each year for quite awhile and she always gets a good response from her students.

"So each week is focused rather than giving something up and they're miserable, they're supposed to do something to better themselves," Steiner said. "I tell them it's important that we need to serve others; that we need to want to do this and not want to get paid for it. This has kind of trained them to think 'oh this really isn't that bad and it kind of becomes a habit.' "

But that doesn't mean some self-denial isn't a good thing either, Steiner gives up chocolate every year and Kreitinger gave up coffee.

Kreitinger said the first couple days were a little painful with caffeine headaches, but it was worth it.

Kreitinger will be able to have his next cup of coffee when Lent ends on April 9 -- Holy Thursday.

"It's one of my favorite seasons," Kreitinger said. "Because in the simplicity of that, that dying to self, we realize that we really do live for God first. Everything I have is God's gift, every breath I take."