03/22/2016, 13.36
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Lent in Pakistan, Church alarmed over growing "Islamization" of Christian fasting

by Kamran Chaudhry

For many families the rites are increasingly similar to those of Muslims during Ramadan, including an Iftar. A catechist admits: "The faithful follow the habits of people around them." Bishop of Faisalabad: There is a lot of confusion, Christian fasting "requires simplicity and inner humility".

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Sitting on the terrace of her house, in the company of neighbors, the Christian Rina Sardar awaits the arrival of catechists to bless the Iftar dinner, the evening meal traditionally eaten by Muslims to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

It’s already past six in the evening and, with the passage of time, his guests are getting impatient. Beside her you see a large pot filled with rice and a tray filled with fruit, covered with a sheet. Two young people are waiting standing in a corner, next to the congas [a kind of drum, derived from African culture]; close to them there is a group of more than 70 people, most of whom are women. "We start with hymns, until the arrival of Babu gee [catechists, in Punjabi language]," says one of the people in the group.

Finally, here comes the catechist Hanif Manzoor, who leads the prayer program for March 18 [a Friday in Lent] starting with the third hymn. "We thank God - he says, before blessing dinner - for the feast prepared by this family."

Over the past 16 years, the Catholic community of St. Paul Parish in Lahore provides food to its members during the period of Lent. Speaking on the margins of the event, the catechist Manzoor stresses that the Iftar is the traditional dinner that follows the day of Muslim fasting from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan.

"For Christians - the catechist tells  AsiaNews – none of this is necessary. I continue to repeat it, but the faithful follow the habits of the people around them. At least three houses of this colony have prepared an evening meal that breaks the fast".

Despite the words of the catechist, the 38 year-old Rina Sardar believes the  family tradition must continue. "It was my father who initiated it - she says - and now one of my brothers provides for the meal from abroad. It is common practice that people distribute juices and rice outside churches during the Fridays of Lent. We prefer to do all of this at home".

In line with what happened in previous years, the local Catholic Church has organized several meetings to clarify the true teachings of the Church on the subject of fasting, and the differences between the Christian and Muslim practices in this regard THAT coincide with the period of Lent. The speakers carefully instruct the faithful about the Jewish and Islamic influences over the course of Lent.

The Bishop of Faisalabad, Msgr. Joseph Arshad, has made no secret of his concern about the impact and consequences of a Muslim majority on the Christian minority in the nation. "A recurring question concerns the duration of the fasting time. Many are confused - adds the prelate - about taking Communion while observing the fast. " And I have seen, notes the bishop, who is an expert in canon law, people spending huge sums for the Iftar dinner". In fact, he concludes the Bishop of Faisalabad, the money "saved by abstinence should be spent on the poor. The spiritual reason inherent in the Christian fasting requires simplicity and inner humility".

With more than 180 million inhabitants (of which 97% profess Islam), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world and is the second among the Muslim countries after Indonesia. About 80% are Sunni Muslim, while Shiites are 20% of the total. There are also Hindus (1.85%), Christians (1.6%) and Sikhs (0.04%)

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