February 1, 2008

To fast or not to fast

Catholic tradition dictates not to eat meats on Fridays during Lent. Many Tijuana Catholics are losing interest in the practice.

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Like many Catholics in Tijuana, Sonia Alfaro doesn’t eat red meats during Lent, or Cuaresma, as it is known in Spanish.

“I abstain from eating red meats on those days because I believe it is a way of having an encounter with God. Ever since I was a little girl my family instilled in me that habit, and I try to follow it today,” said the 58 year old woman.

Lent is a special season for all Christians, including Catholics. It is considered a season of penance, repentance, and sacrifice. It starts on Miércoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday, this Wednesday, February 6,) and ends with Domingo de Resurrencción o de Pascua (Easter Sunday).

Different Christian denominations celebrate this time in different ways.

One of the most popular and controversial among Catholics, is abstaining from consuming red meats –such as beef and pork — on Fridays during Lent.

For the Catholic Church, this practice is a way in which Catholics can prove that they are sorry for their sins.

“Fasting is found in the Old and New Testament as a way of repentance,” said Juanita López, a devout Catholic in Tijuana. “The Church invites to fasting during Lent. It is a way in which believers can remember the need to give God his proper place in our lives.”

Nevertheless, many young Catholics, don’t believe that fasting on Fridays during Lent, on Ash Wednesday, and during Holy Week, is really necessary.

Each year the practice is followed less and less by the younger generation of Mexican Catholics.

“That’s a tradition that our parents made us follow, but most of the time they didn’t even know the meaning behind it,” said Ignacio Ortiz, a Tijuana Catholic, while he was devouring a couple of carne asada tacos on a recent Friday afternoon.

Some people think that the reason why many Catholics don’t know the meaning of the tradition is because the Church hasn’t informed the people well regarding it.

Delia Elizalde, for example, does not agree with the practice.

“I don’t think that abstaining from eating meat on Fridays will make me a better Catholic. It all depends on you, on being in peace with yourself and God,” she said.

The new generations of Catholics aren’t the only ones questioning the purpose of the Lent traditions in the Catholic Church. Other Christian denominations also criticize the Church and say that Catholics forget about the Bible in order to follow meaningless traditions.

For example, Ernesto Poot, a Tijuana Evangelist, said he doesn’t agree with the tradition, but he said he doesn’t criticize it either.

“No where in the Bible does it say that we shouldn’t eat meat on Fridays,” he said. Many Catholics only do it as a tradition. I don’t think they’re wrong. I just respect their traditions.”

Some critics say that this practice has become very commercial and now major food chains use it as a way to sell more fish during Lent. McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish Sandwich is a good example.

Sandra Pérez, a Jehovah’s Witness that distributes magazines such as “La Atalaya” (“Watchtower”) and “Despertad!” (“Awake!”), said that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t follow Catholic traditions. She said Witnesses focus more on Bible studies and on prayer.

Ignacio Ortiz, the young Catholic that doesn’t fast on Fridays, said that Catholics pay too much attention to external things and less to spiritual ones.

“At home, every week they tell me not to eat meat on Fridays, but they never tell me to pray or to talk to God,” he said. “During Holy Week we go to the beach to have fun. We hardly ever go to Mass during Lent.”

Some of the typical foods in Tijuana during Lent are fried fish, shrimp cocktails, fish filet, capirotada, and fish tacos.

Usually these entrees are available in almost any restaurant on Fridays during Lent.

But of course, even though many Tijuana residents fast, tacos of all sorts are available year round in taquerias all over the city.

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