Ash Wednesday, observed by most mainline Christian denominations with a religious service, is a time for reflection, said Helene Slessarev-Jamir, professor of urban studies as the Claremont School of Theology.
Ash Wednesday is "sort of a day of repentance leading up to Easter" when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, she said.
"This is our time of looking inward, of contemplating," Slessarev-Jamir said of the Lenten season. It's a time "to turn around and make changes and really dig deep."
At a time when people are often living hectic lives, the season provides a period of reflection in which to take stock and look for ways to live a life that tries to model Jesus behavior, Slessarev-Jamir said.
For Catholics, Lent arrives after a tumultuous period with the recent release in Los Angeles of documents related to the church sex abuse scandal and Monday's announcement that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning.
Pope Benedict, who became the leader of the Roman Catholic church's 1 billion followers in 2005, announced he will leave his post at the end of the month for health reasons.
"I'm praying for the health of Pope Benedict," said Desiree Ebreo of Rancho Cucamonga after attending 7:30 a.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Rancho Cucamonga.
On her mind this season is a desire for peace and prosperity in the country and around the world, she said.
Fontana resident Maria Lomeli was among the steady stream of faithful who attended services at St. Joseph Church in Fontana throughout the day.
Lomeli said she would like the next pope to be someone more like Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
"I know there is no one that is the same as (John Paul) but it should be someone who is young," Lomeli said in Spanish. "It should be someone who is prepared" for the role.
Pope John Paul II, a charismatic leader, became pope in 1978 at the age of 58.
Virginia Coronado, a Fontana resident said Pope Benedict has carried a heavy burden during his tenure and the next pope will have much to deal with.
To do his job the next pope and will have to be thoughtful and a good listener.
"He needs to be a little bit broad-minded," Coronado said. "He needs to evaluate every issue going on."
Popes are surrounded by many people who provide information as well as advice, she said.
"He needs to kind of listen more," Coronado said. "There's a lot of issues he has to deal with."
One of those issues should be the sex abuse scandal. It should be addressed head on rather than trying to hide it, she said.
"If you brush something under the rug it's going to come out," Coronado said.
Rick Breceda of Fontana said he hopes the next pope does something to address the sex abuse scandal.
"He should just make a change in the church to deal with that," Breceda said. "If he does that he's done a lot."