Observing Lent in India in its rich variety

Rituals, abstinence and traditions bring Indian Catholics closer to God reporter

Updated: April 19, 2011 04:30 AM GMT
Indian Catholics take part in a 16-kilometer Way of the Cross Lenten ritual in Kerala state, southern India. It is held every Friday during Lent. A Carmelite priest started the tradition 17 years ago.

From the carrying of a cross uphill in Kerala, to the Canons’ procession in Goa, to attending the Way of the Cross each morning in Orissa, there are many ways  in which Lent is observed in India. Kerala is the cradle of Christianity in India. In this southern state, Lent is observed with passion. Some faithful carry a cross uphill and plant it on St. Thomas Mount in Malayatoor, which the first apostle visited during his stay in India and which has become a pilgrimage site. Roshi Augustine, a former state legislator, treks almost 100 kilometers from Idukki to Malayatoor with his friends, carrying a cross weighing over 150 kilograms. “I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years. It’s a way of repentance….” said Augustine, who represented Idukki district. Antony Kuriakose, a banker, says that during Lent “we go to church every day, abstain from consuming meat and alcohol and save money for charity.” In Lourde Forane Church in Thiruvananthapuram, all students attending catechism are given piggy banks to save money for charity. “Many children save by going without chocolates and ice cream,” said Father John V. Thadathil. But octogenarian Lonappan Francis, who belongs to the Syro-Malabar Church in Irinjalakuda, regrets that the spirit of Lent is fading. “Before, family prayers and Bible reading were routine in the lives of Catholics. But now these are missing in many families.” Goa is another predominantly Christian state. Here the procession of the Canons is a unique Lenten ritual where about 12 canons– mostly retired priests – walk, singing mournful dirges at Se Cathedral in Old Goa on Good Friday. This ritual follows the main Good Friday service; here the Canons decked out in long black habits and hoods lead a procession re-enacting the taking of Christ’s body to the sepulcher. Their mournful dirges stop before the body is finally laid at the foot of the cross at one of the chapels within the cathedral. Another Lenten practice is the procession of saints held on the first Monday of Easter week in Goa Velha, 10 kilometers south of the state capital Panaji. There, the statues of around 30 saints, including Blessed Joseph Vaz, are led out of St. Andrew's Church and taken in a procession through the village’s main thoroughfares. Devotees try passing under the statues which are carried by pall bearers, believing this will bring them saintly blessings. Yet another Lenten practice popularized by the Society of Pilar in the archdiocese is a Lenten play which makes the rounds in various parishes. In Orissa’s Kandhamal district, which has seen anti-Christian violence in recent years, some villagers attend the Way of the Cross every day. Retreats are organized in every parish. The baptism of new Catholics takes place only on Easter Sunday while first Holy Communion is given to children only during Holy Week. In another Christian stronghold in the north-east, youths have started a “Jesus Centered Youth Ministry” in Kohima, Nagaland’s capital. Its activities include reaching out to the poorest. Youths gather every Sunday and plan for the week ahead. They follow eight steps: prayer, Bible reading, sharing the Word of God, offertory, games, fun time, discussion and action plans. “In all 36 parishes in Kohima diocese, youths are formed into groups of 13,” says, the ministry’s founder director, Father Anto Paul, “just like Jesus and his disciples. We want to create an identity for the Nagaland Catholic Youth Movement.” “The youths raise money to help the poor in different ways. Some even volunteer to clean the houses of elderly widows.” Teresa Ashela one of the members said, “It’s a good initiative because it has created a strong bond among young people. It has also enhanced their spiritual growth. I hope this model will be adopted elsewhere. IC13980.1649

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