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Asians focus on tradition for Lent

Lenten appeals are aimed at helping raise awareness and funds

Catholics in the  Philippines receive the sign of the cross with ashes during an Ash Wednesday Mass (file photo) Catholics in the Philippines receive the sign of the cross with ashes during an Ash Wednesday Mass (file photo)
  • ucanews.com staff, Bangkok
  • Thailand
  • March 9, 2011
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Churches in Asia are emphasizing the traditional practices of special prayers, fasting, abstinence and charitable works during Lent that begins today.

In the Philippines, Asia’s predominantly Christian country, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, archbishop of Manila, is urging Catholics to remember malnourished children and to give whatever they save from fasting to the Church’s feeding program that will be launched on Ash Wednesday in dioceses throughout the country.

“Love. Give them Hope” is the theme for this year’s Lenten campaign in Hong Kong. The Catholic Church here is helping inculcate a sense of service and sacrifice among the young this Lent. Most of the diocese’s Lenten activities are geared toward students. A series of Lenten activities include a piggy bank for children to save up their pocket money and Catholics and students of Church-run schools are encouraged to participate in theme day activities such as vegetarian lunches, no soft drinks, no TV, no games and no plastic bags on an assigned day.

In Indonesia, Jakarta archdiocese has taken the lead to foster a campaign for the country with its “let us work together in fighting against poverty” theme.
“Actually, the main theme was chosen for last year’s Lent. However, Catholics wanted to keep it because they thought it is still relevant,” said Jesuit Father Yusuf Edi Mulyono, chairman of the archdiocese’s Commission for Socio-Economic Development. The main purpose of the Lenten fundraising is not just to collect money from Catholics but to encourage them to work together in helping poor people, he said.

The Church in Myanmar intends to do things a bit differently with “Integral human development in charity and truth” as its main Lenten message. Social workers from Karuna, as the local Caritas is called, has trained catechists, priests and nuns to help in diocesan projects that foster “human development” during Lent.

For Catholics who make up about 10 percent of Korea’s population, "Let's share what we have” has been the recurring Lenten theme put forward by the local Caritas since 1977. The Catholic social service agency distributes posters and the Pope's Lenten message to all dioceses, asking them to prepare various activities to help Catholics understand the meaning of this season of penitence. It distributes a “piggy bank” to all Catholic families on Ash Wednesday, urging them to save small change by sacrificing a cup of coffee, alcohol or cigarettes, or walking a close distance while remembering their poor neighbors. The collection is used to help poor and marginalized people.

The Catholic Church, through diocesan units of Caritas Pakistan, is circulating Lenten envelopes among parishes to generate revenue for charity works. Caritas in Karachi for example has urged a donation of at least one rupee (less than one US cent) for every Catholic in the archdiocese. “Support the needy” is the national theme for this year’s Lenten campaign. “Through a minimum contribution, we are aiming for maximum participation. Engaging each individual will help in stimulating compassion,” said Riaz Nawab, a Caritas Pakistan coordinator for the Lenten fund raising campaign. The money collected will help orphans, widows and poor.

In neighboring Nepal too, envelopes for a special Lenten offering to help the poor are being kept in churches. Special daylong parish adoration of the Eucharist and retreats are being organized along with outdoor praying of the Way of the Cross during Fridays in Lent. Some parishes like southern Kathmandu’s Ishalaya Church will organize a special weekly talk on Lent and a priest and time set aside everyday to hear confessions. A printed version of the Pope’s Lenten message is also being circulated throughout parishes in Nepal.

For the Bangladesh Church “Peace begins in the family” is the theme for its 2011 Lenten campaign. The campaign organized by Caritas will collect a day’s salary from each of its employees as well as from Catholics across the country to distribute among poor people. Caritas has produced leaflets and magazines to promote this campaign to highlight a “culture of giving.”

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka chose “Christ is our Hope” as the theme of this year Lenten season. It focuses on helping the displaced, homeless, widows and orphans. A booklet has published with special reflection from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

The Asian Church response is largely in keeping with Pope Benedict XVI’s message that discusses the three hallmarks of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. “Through the personal encounter with our Redeemer and through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, the journey of conversion towards Easter leads us to rediscover our Baptism,” he said in his 2011 Lenten message.

The annual Lenten appeals are aimed at helping raise awareness as well as funds to combat poverty and injustice across the world by providing communities with the tools to turn their lives around.

Lent is based on the 40 days Jesus is said to have spent fasting in the desert in preparation for his ministry. It starts today on Ash Wednesday and is traditionally a time of penance for Christians in preparation for Easter.

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