This Vasai fast is DIFFERENT 40 days of Prayer & Abstinence

GRACE PERIOD

Christians of this green suburb observe a community Lent with 40 days of prayer and abstinence

Joeanna Rebello Fernandes TNN

Vasai Church

Vasai Church

You’d imagine a beauty salon would have all the action on a Friday evening, but this one was as deserted as a state bank on a public holiday. All the women in the building, and there are at least 50, were in the hall next door, stretching out their hands, and it was not for a mass manicure.
We’re witnessing a Christian service that takes place in Vasai every Lent—the time of prayer and fasting that lasts 40 days. Lent marks the period of Jesus’ preparation for his death and ends on Holy Saturday, a day prior to Easter Sunday, which marks Christ’s resurrection. It’s the time of year when the Catholic Church reinforces its message on repentance, moral rectitude and spiritual renewal.
While most adherents of the faith individually observe Lent through personal reflection and abstention from certain habits and foods, there are some, like the group in Vasai, who put up a united front. Every day for 40 days, young and old crowd the hall of a nondescript building in town from 10am to 6pm, praying, singing hymns, submitting invocations and, of course, fasting.
But ‘fast’ is not a watertight term for absolute denial of food and water; it is, rather, symbolic of a more general abdication of selected routines. “If one fasts without spiritual instigation, one could just as well be dieting,” says Romeo Fernando, founder-member of this Lenten practice in Vasai. “Remember, sin started with the act of eating,” he says as an aside. (Adam’s apple has been the metaphorical root of all evil in Christian scripture.) “But to fast is to go deeper, it is to retire from the rat race (if even temporarily), to stabilise our emotions and to introspect. When the senses are subdued, intellect and emotions are enhanced, and we come away feeling wiser and spiritually stronger. By distancing ourselves from the material, we discover self-control.”
Each participant chooses his or her own formula for selfdenial. A few, like Fernando, subsist on a light supper for 40 days, others, including some of the teenagers who attend the sessions, give up one meal and several ‘favourite foods’. “Our friends find it difficult to understand what we do. They
think it abnormal that we pray and fast so long,” says 23-year-old Pearl Pereira. “But it’s more difficult to fast when you’re alone, and not with the group,” observes 23-year-old Acquino D’Silva.
But they’re all committed to the cause and try to attend the service every day. Many school and college students drop by after class, as do teachers from the area. Seventeenyear-old Moriska Dias, who plays the organ here, says she has been attending the service from the year it began. “I’m on study leave, so I attend every day,” says the Std 11 student. Homemakers with babies at the hip visit after household chores are completed, and businessmen too drop in for a few hours. Some white-collar workers save their casual leave for this time. When the core group assembled for the first time seven years ago, there were only about 50 of them. After word spread in the Vasai diocese ), the numbers swelled and even touch 1,000 on a good day.
The belief that there is power in numbers drives the congregation to pray with redoubled fervour. “We pray and fast for one another’s personal difficulties, our health and even national and global problems,” says Rosie Pereira, a teacher. This year, their intercession includes relief for the social and political crises of Uganda, not least because a group of Ugandan Christians are visiting friends in Vasai and have been regular at the Lenten gathering. Scholastica Kabapadasa, one of the Ugandans, who appears in good health and spirits even though she has been dry-fasting, ie abstaining from liquids and taking only supper, says, “One needs to identify an intention for which to fast, if one wants the fast to be successful.” And should hunger come around, they remind themselves of Jesus chastening the devil in the desert with the words “Man does not live by bread alone…”

 

HAND OF FAITH This year the group will pray for relief for victims of the social and political crises in Uganda

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