2002-02-27 00:00:00

Many Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan often keep the Lenten fast with the same vigor as their Muslim neighbors who fast daily from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month.

In a country that is no stranger to fasting, some Christians here observe a dawn to dusk fast during Lent Feb. 13-March 30, while others go even further by observing a 24-hour fast.

Mariam Javed, 35, a housewife and mother of four children, said that she observes a 24-hour fast, consuming food after her fasting period ends, while her children observe a 12 hour-fast, that is from 6 a.m to 6 p.m.

The breaking of the fast is a family affair that takes place around sunset, she said, adding that no special dish is served for it, and family members eat an ordinary meal.

Shazia Sharif, 24, who works in a Catholic institution, observes a 24-hour fast. "For me, Lent is a time which calls us to a renewed awareness of our vocation as Christians. We have fallen short of our ideal to follow Christ, and (we must) realize that spiritual growth can be achieved through the cross."

"There is a need to renounce our selfishness for material possessions which have clouded our vision of Christ," she said.

Khurm Daniel, 18, who makes decorative items made of white-clay, said he observes a 24-hour fast during Lent, and works the whole day. He noted that he does not feel weak because Christ gives him spiritual nourishment.

Sherish Ann, 10, told UCA News how she got confused when a priest on Ash Wednesday in their school explained to Christian children how to observe the Lenten fast.

She said that the priest told them that if they have the appetite for two chapatis, local flat bread, they could eat one. If they usually like one chapati, they could eat only half. In the same way, the priest continued, if they usually drink one cup of tea, they drink only half a cup.

After the Ash Wednesday service, when the Christian children went back to their class, their Muslim friends asked them how they fast, Sherish Ann said.

When they explained what the priest had told them, their Muslim friends made fun of them, she complained. Sherish said she is convinced that the priest´s advice "cannot be our Christian fast" since to her "to fast is to abstain from all kinds of food and drink from dawn to dusk."

According to Riaz Yousaf, 28, a social worker, Christians do not hold weddings or parties during Lent in Pakistan. Some families cook food and invite people who are fasting to break the fast with them, or to share with others during Lent. Other families distribute rice to the poor, he added.

"Lent is a season when we are invited to develop our social conscience about the need of our brothers and sisters," he said, adding that he appreciated the Catholic bishops´ decision to use the Lenten offering to help child laborers.

In a Feb. 1 Lenten pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of Pakistan, the bishops said the Lenten campaign is aimed at uplifting child laborers.

The way of the cross is another popular devotion during Lent. The "shame-e-gham" (evening of grief) service in which poets recite their poems and sing songs on the Passion of Christ is held on Fridays.

Muslims comprise about 96 percent of Pakistan´s population. Hindus make up about 2 percent, while Christians comprise about 1.8 percent.


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