Outrage as 73 Catholic School pupils are burned in Ash Wednesday service

Parents have been left outraged after 73 pupils and 16 staff suffered chemical burns while having ash crosses smudged onto their foreheads during an Ash Wednesday assembly.

At least two children from St Augustine’s Catholic High School in Redditch, Worcestershire, were taken to hospital following the religious event.

Parents said the ritual was performed by a priest and two older children and was stopped half way through when people complained of ‘tingling’.

Chairo Rowe, 14, and his mother Cassena Brown, 39, who was 'furious' when she saw the chemical burn left by the ash which had been smeared across her son's forehead

Chairo Rowe, 14, and his mother Cassena Brown, 39, who was 'furious' when she saw the chemical burn left by the ash which had been smeared across her son's forehead

Chairo Rowe, 14, and his mother Cassena Brown, 39, who was ‘furious’ when she saw the chemical burn left by the ash which had been smeared across her son’s forehead

Chairo was taken to hospital and it is likely that the schoolboy will be scarred from the wound. Some 72 other pupils at St Augustine's Catholic High School were also burned by the ash

Chairo was taken to hospital and it is likely that the schoolboy will be scarred from the wound. Some 72 other pupils at St Augustine's Catholic High School were also burned by the ash

Chairo was taken to hospital and it is likely that the schoolboy will be scarred from the wound. Some 72 other pupils at St Augustine’s Catholic High School were also burned by the ash

One concerned grandparent said children were burned – and parents are now considering legal action against the school.

A parent who took her son to hospital for treatment said medics told her it was a chemical burn that would likely leave a scar.

Traditionally the ash for the ceremony comes from leaves burned in last year’s Palm Sunday services.

The Ash Wednesday ceremony  

Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day of fasting that falls on the first day of Lent. 

A priest places ashes on a believer’s head while reciting the dictum ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ or ‘repent, and believe in the Gospel’.  

Traditionally the ash for the ceremony comes from leaves burned in last year’s Palm Sunday services. 

It comes from the ancient practice of fasting and it is generally considered bad taste to dine out, to shop, or to go about in public after receiving the ashes in the service. 

It is not required that a person wear the ashes for the rest of the day, and they may be washed off after Mass. 

However, many people leave the ashes on their forehead until the evening.

But a grandparent said ‘toxic’ ones had been used this time.

Cassena Brown, 39, said her son Chairo Rowe, 14, was badly burned in the ceremony, had to be taken to hospital and has been off school for two days.

She said: ‘I am absolutely furious. They started with the year nine and it was the priest and two sixth form children – a boy and a girl.

‘That’s the first thing that confused me when I heard about it. Why are children doing it to other children?

‘After a while some of the children said that it had started to burn. Some of the teachers said it did as well. Some of them rubbed it off straight away, but some left it on.’

Mrs Brown said when children complained of burning after leaving the ash on some were given wet wipes.

‘But when some of the kids wiped it off, it ripped the skin off as well,’ she said.

‘It was red raw. They should have been sent to a medical professional, not given a perfumed wet wipe.’

The delivery driver said all parents were sent a text message saying some children had been left with an ‘irritation’ after the Ash Wednesday assembly.

The mother said the message explained that the parents of the most severely affected children would get a call – which she did – so came to pick up her son early.

‘I saw other children walking out with their parents, with red marks – like a heat rash almost – on their foreheads,’ she said.

‘But when I saw my son I was gobsmacked.

‘My son was the worst of everyone. Because he is of Afro-Caribbean heritage you can see the burn very clearly, as the skin is burned and it’s white underneath.’

She said doctors at Alexandra Hospital said it was a chemical burn and recommended keeping the wound clean with cold water.

Cassena Brown, Chairo's mother, said she was furious when she learned that students had the ash smeared on their heads by fellow pupils

Cassena Brown, Chairo's mother, said she was furious when she learned that students had the ash smeared on their heads by fellow pupils

Mrs Brown said when children complained of burning after leaving the ash on some were given wet wipes

Mrs Brown said when children complained of burning after leaving the ash on some were given wet wipes

Cassena Brown, mother of Chairo (left before wound and right after ceremony) said she was furious when she learned that students had the ash smeared on their heads by fellow pupils

At least two children from St Augustine's Catholic High School in Redditch, Worcestershire, (seen in an undated file photo) were taken to hospital following the religious event

At least two children from St Augustine's Catholic High School in Redditch, Worcestershire, (seen in an undated file photo) were taken to hospital following the religious event

At least two children from St Augustine’s Catholic High School in Redditch, Worcestershire, (seen in an undated file photo) were taken to hospital following the religious event

‘It continued to burn throughout the night,’ she said. ‘It was red hot. He won’t go to school.

‘He’s embarrassed. Last week he had girls at school saying he was cute, now he has a burn on his face.’

A grandfather of another burned child said: ‘They are anointed with a cross on the forehead. The medium used was a mixture of palm oil and ash from burned leaves.

‘They must have picked a toxic leaf as the results in most cases were burns on the forehead resulting in hospital admissions for many children. The parents are contemplating legal action.’

An example of a Catholic having ash applied to his forehead during a service in Brazil on Wednesday (stock image)

An example of a Catholic having ash applied to his forehead during a service in Brazil on Wednesday (stock image)

An example of a Catholic having ash applied to his forehead during a service in Brazil on Wednesday (stock image)

The Christian Ash Wednesday ritual involves receiving a mark of ashes on the forehead as a token of penitence and mortality.

Parents at the school gates today said some burned children were sent home.

One father, who has a daughter at the school, said: ‘I think it was basically the first year students in school who were affected. It’s terrible really.’

A mother said: ‘A load of the kids had to go home after they got burned.’

Another added: ‘My daughter said something had happened and some kids got burned on the forehead.

‘We are not Catholic so my daughter would not have taken part.’

One sixth form pupil told MailOnline that the ‘situation is terrible’ but hit out at ‘ridiculous’ parents who were blaming her fellow older pupils who helped administer the ash.  

St Augustine’s Catholic High School said the ash was provided by a priest from the Diocese of Birmingham, which sourced it from a company in Aldridge. 

The school has confirmed a total of 90 people – 73 students, 16 staff and the chair of the governors – were burned in the Ash Wednesday service. 

The school sent a message to the students' parents explaining the injuries sustained during their Ash Wednesday service

The school sent a message to the students' parents explaining the injuries sustained during their Ash Wednesday service

The school sent a message to the students’ parents explaining the injuries sustained during their Ash Wednesday service

A school spokesman said: ‘During the Ash Wednesday service for Year 9 and Year 11 students, it came to our attention that discomfort was experienced by some students that had received the ashes on the forehead.

‘As a result, all students were requested to wash the ashes off immediately to ensure no further discomfort was felt.

‘Any further distribution of ashes immediately ceased. The school is dismayed by this event.

‘In total, 73 students, 16 staff and the Chair of the Governors have been affected to date.

‘Those impacted were administered on site by trained First Aiders and then advised to seek further medical attention.

‘An investigation has started and the ashes are being analysed by external experts.

‘A subsequent report will be made available to all stakeholders and any recommendations will be actioned accordingly.

‘Saint Augustine’s Catholic High School treats students’ health and safety as paramount.’ 

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