Year of the Goat: Christians Face Dilemma Celebrating Chinese New Year as Ash Wednesday Begins

( [email protected] ) Feb 17, 2015 07:25 PM EST
This year, the Year of the Goat and Ash Wednesday fall just a day apart, with Chinese New Year on the 19th, and first day of Lent on Feb. 18, presenting a dilemma for devout Christians across Asia.
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This year, the Year of the Goat and Ash Wednesday fall just a day apart, with Chinese New Year on the 19th, and first day of Lent on Feb. 18, presenting a dilemma for devout Christians across Asia.

One holiday focuses on the joys of eating, drinking and partying, while the other is a somber occasion filled with fasting that starts the season of Lent. According to Antonio Anup Gonsalves of Catholic News Agency, some leaders in the Catholic Church have issued dispensations that allow Asian Catholics to celebrate both holidays.

"In view of the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year, its cultural and spiritual importance and the traditional practices associated with it, we therefore grant dispensation from the obligation of fasting and abstinence to our Chinese-Filipino and Chinese Catholics in the Archdiocese of Manila from the afternoon of Feb. 18, 2015 until midnight," Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila wrote in a circular letter to his archdiocese on Feb. 6.

Tagle added that to make up for the celebrations, people should practice "acts of mercy and chartity, especially to the poor and those who suffer" as their form of "penance." He argued that doing such actions would keep with "the penitential spirit of the season of Lent."

"May our celebration of the start of a new year and the Lenten Season bring us to the path of renewal and conversion towards God's Kingdom!" Tagle wrote. "Have a meaningful Lenten season and a Happy Lunar New Year!"

Gonsalves reported that Catholic churches in the region will carry on with masses and the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. However, bishops' conferences across Southeast Asia and in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei have stated that individuals can either carry on with the fasting and abstinence of Ash Wednesday on the day itself or on another day.

According to Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun, over 60,000 Roman Catholics who lived in the Vancouver area also had to resolve this issue. He reported that roughly 20 percent of Vancouver's Catholics were of Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Malaysian origins.

"They face a conflict between the Asian revelry that begins on Lunar New Year's Eve on Feb. 18 and the fasting and alcohol avoidance the Catholic Church expects on the same day, Ash Wednesday," Todd wrote.

Archbishop Michael Miller also issued a "dispensation" so Asian Catholics can celebrate the Lunar New Year with a clean conscience. However, Todd reported that archdiocese communications director Paul Schratz that they don't get a complete pass on their obligations either.

"The archbishop added that since Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, a penitential time of preparation for the liturgical celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, anyone who makes use of the Ash Wednesday dispensation must observe a different day of fast and abstinence on some other day at the beginning of Lent," Schratz said.

Miller suggested some days where those who plan to celebrate the Lunar New Year can properly observe and practice their Catholic obligations.

"I am obliging all who make use of this dispensation to observe a day of fast and abstinence on one other day at the beginning of Lent, such as Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015 or Friday, Feb. 27, 2015," Miller said.

The archbishop of Vancouver also added that his dispensation was only valid for this year.

"Please note that this relaxation of the rule for such a significant day in the Church's liturgical year is a one-time dispensation only and is not valid for future years," Miller said.

Father Tien Tran, a Catholic priest, told Todd that Lunar New Year is a significant holiday to many Asian people. The priest compared its significance to that of American Thanksgiving or Canadian Christmas.

"They eat and they drink," Tran said in describing Lunar New Year celebrations. "They start on New Year's Eve and they celebrate for the next three days - at least."

Todd reported that many people travelled to Asia around this time to go home to their families. Tran, who came to Canada from Vietnam as a refugee when he was 18, told Todd that he would visit his family back in his home country.

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