MANILA, February 9, 2005 (STAR) By Mike Frialde  -  To fast or to feast?

Thatís the dilemma facing Filipino-Chinese Catholics who celebrate the Chinese New Year of the Rooster starting today. Will they opt for the traditional feasts of pansit, dim sum and meat dishes ó or turn down such temptations in order to fast on Ash Wednesday?

Itís a dizzying problem, but the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has stepped in to help, saying that Filipino-Chinese Catholics who plan to feast today may get special dispensation from their local bishops.

CBCP spokesman Msgr. Hernando Coronel said that bishops of the Chinese-Filipino Catholic Apostolate in the Philippines could give the dispensations.

He added that local bishops could also excuse non-Chinese Catholics who might wish to celebrate Chinese New Year on Wednesday with the Filipino-Chinese.

Those who are exempted from fasting, Coronel added, may perform acts of charity instead of refraining from food on Ash Wednesday. These acts could include giving alms, attending to the sick or visiting prisoners.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40-day Lenten season for Roman Catholics. Catholics 14 years and above are bound to observe fasting and abstinence on this day. Other fasting days are Good Friday and every Friday in the season of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is also a day for contemplating oneís mortality for Catholics. After hearing Mass on Ash Wednesday, Catholics are traditionally marked on the forehead with a sign of the cross, and the priest says, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel," or "Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return."

In his Ash Wednesday message, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales called on all Filipino Catholics to enter the season of Lent with a spirit of prayer and generosity to take on sacrifice and to discipline the self.

Rosales also urged the faithful to go beyond mere self-sacrifice, and to extend oneís charity toward others, by feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless, for example.

In the Philippines, Ash Wednesday is the start of the holiest liturgical season that concludes with Holy Week, which marks the remembrance of the suffering, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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