Freedom from fasting: Chinese New Year trumps Ash Wednesday for Asia's Catholics

Chinese New Year this year falls on the same day as Ash WednesdayReuters

Chinese Catholics facing a tricky decision between fasting for Ash Wednesday and celebrating Chinese New Year have been excused by their bishops.

Some clergy in East Asia are reportedly granting dispensations to their churches, who usually abstain from food on the holy day, because this year it falls on the same day as the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Traditionally, the New Year celebrations include a big family meal.

Catholic News Agency reports that Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, told his archdiocese in a letter earlier this month that they would not be expected to fast "in view of the... cultural and spiritual importance and the traditional practices" associated with Chinese New Year.

"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 February 18, 2015 until midnight," he said.

"Those availing of the dispensation must engage in some other forms of penance, acts of mercy and charity, especially to the poor and those who suffer, in keeping 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! Have a meaningful Lenten season and a Happy Lunar New Year!"

Vancouver Archbishop Micahel Miller also excused his church members, around 20 per cent of whom are of Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Malaysian descent.

Miller noted the "dilemma" of wanting to ring in the New Year on the same day that Catholics are expected to "fast, abstain from meat and have ashes spread on their foreheads" in a letter to congregants. He therefore said he was "pleased to dispense the faithful from the obligation".

However, the Archbishop did suggest that those faced with the decision should observe a day of fasting on a later date instead.

"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," he added.