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Lent also helpful to other faiths

Buddhists and Hindus can learn more about the Catholic faith

Lent also helpful to other faiths
Colombo diocesan lay movement Joseph Vaz Mantram conduct evening Way of the Cross in Colombo reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

April 6, 2011

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Devotional  Lenten practices are not only a way for Catholics in Sri Lanka to grow in holiness but also a special time to help people from other religions learn about the Catholic faith. Pilgrimages, passion plays, Way of the Cross, special meditations, scripture reading, almsgiving and fasting, they say, characterize the season but Buddhists and Hindus want to know why Catholics observe such special practices. “If anyone in the city expects to observe Lent successfully, they have to make a pilgrimage to remote villages,” said George Fernando, who has taken his family of five to the Marian shrine in Madhu situated in the northern jungles of the country. So when people of other religions see hundreds of coaches carrying Catholic families to shrines across the country, they wonder why. It becomes a time for Catholics to tell them about Lent, about the faith and about Jesus Christ, he said. “We also meet other people who are poor farmers and fisher folk and that reminds us about how fortunate we are,” said Father Tony Martyn, the parish priest of St Lucia’s Cathedral who took 150 families from his parish on a three-day pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in northern Mannar diocese. It’s an opportunity for others to see Catholics pray, he said. Every year in the diocese, as part of a Lenten exercise of prayer and penance, thousands of Catholics and people of other faiths, carry their children on their shoulders and walk 100 kilometers over a period of three days to a mountain shrine. Also during Lent, about 15,000 Catholics conduct the Way of the Cross in Colombo, going through streets reenacting Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary, for all to see. This is a great opportunity for curious Buddhists and Hindus, the two largest religions in Sri Lanka, to know more about the Catholic faith, a Colombo parishioner pointed out. According to Father Anthony Joseph, a yoga expert from Kandy diocese, Lent is also a time to do away with the popular notion that meditation is exclusive to Buddhists and Hindus. Catholics, especially during Lent, conduct meditation sessions in their parish churches and chapels or even arrange them in open air spots, such as near rivers, inviting people from other faiths to join in. Like Buddhists and Hindus, Catholics also sing and chant devotional prayers, but on Christ’s passion. The special Lenten devotion in Sri Lanka called “Pasan” is open to different faiths through competitions conducted by parishes. Many parishes also stage traditional passion plays inviting members from different religions to join in. Here, actors also take part in special prayers to make the play more meaningful for themselves and the audience. “These plays provide an opportunity for Catholics as well as other faiths to participate during this period of Lent,” said Father N.M. Saveri, director of the Church-run Centre for Performing Arts, which has been conducting such passion plays since the 1960s. Almsgiving and fasting is also another special Lenten practice. “Promoting almsgiving in the current economic climate however, is a challenge, but the need for charity is greater during Lent,” remarked Father Sebastiampillai Anthony Mariathas. “Fasting during Lent can also be an opportunity for other faiths to know how Catholics become more mindful of those who lack basic necessities in life,” says Father Mariathas. Related reports SR13859.1648

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