Christians display same fasting spirit as their Muslim brethren

Published April 13, 2022
Luciana Fernandes gives prayer beads, which she has made, to Muhammad Shahid, who sells them and earns his living.
—Photo by writer
Luciana Fernandes gives prayer beads, which she has made, to Muhammad Shahid, who sells them and earns his living. —Photo by writer

KARACHI: Assis Fernandes sits in a small shop, selling ready-to-eat items whole day, but he himself doesn’t take anything from dawn to dusk.

“When you keep the fast, you abstain from all the good things. It also includes eatables. Say its Qeema Paratha, Chana Puri and every other else you eat in the breakfast”, explains Fernandes, a 69-year-old Goan Christian.

Mr Fernandes runs a small shop selling ready-to-eat items specially made in Goan style — a legacy he inherited from his parents, who were born in Southern Indian state of Goa, which remained a Portuguese colony till 1960s.

Like elsewhere in the world, the Christians are observing fasts during the holy month of Lent, which is followed by the Easter Sunday — the day of resurrection of the Jesus Christ.

This year, Muslims and Christians happen to observe their fasting months side by side

“In Lent, we keep fasts for 40 days unlike our Muslim brethren who observe 30 days of fasts during the holy month of Ramazan,” he tells Dawn.

“The only difference is that our fasts duration is longer than those observed by the Muslims”, he adds drawing a comparison between the fast of two religious communities.

This year, Muslims and Christians happen to observe their respective fasting months side-by-side.

“This happens after a cycle of many years. This is good,” said the tall and heavy man clad in round neck T-shirt and pants and wearing thick spectacles.

“Sometime, this used to happen, when me and my family were living in Muscat in 1989 or so”, he reminisces.

Christians’ fasting day

Mostly, the Christians are known to keep fast lasting for 24-hours. And while many priests and others observe the daylong fast, Mr Fernandes says he keeps the fast for around 12 hours.

“In the morning, I just take a cup of tea and an egg. That’s it. Then, I break my fast at around 9 O’clock by having a normal dinner,” he explains, adding that their community does not make any special arrangements for keeping the fast and breaking the fast compared to his Muslim neighbours, who he says are seen making specially eating arrangements both for Sehri (predawn meal) and then for Iftar (breaking the fast).

Mr Fernandes says that fast does not only mean abstaining from eating food, but it is equally a spiritual experience to observe as well.

“Let’s say if people drink (alcohol) every day in other months. They will not take alcohol during the Lent, and rather take the wine”, he says. “So, goes with the meat. You don’t eat meat for it also reflects luxury”.

Spiritual fast

Similarly, it goes for the spirituality. “When, I am fasting I sing prayers at least once during the day,” Mr Fernandes says. “Be it at home or in the church. It’s up to you.”

Fernandes, his 62-year-old wife Luciana Fernandes and their younger daughter Stephanie Fernandes run a small shop that sells the readymade Goan food items.

The food items includes sorpotel (a meat curry dish), prawn caldine (prawn curry with coconut milk). Other items include Easter bunnies (with a mark of cross on them), Easter bark and Easter eggs. “Sorpotel is a dish exclusively made for the feast on special occasions like Easter, Christmas, birthdays, etc.”

The family also sells trinkets for the women as well as faith-based jewellery like rosaries that the mother and daughter make themselves.

Ms Luciana is thin and clad in round-neck T-shirt over a long skirt — a dress commonly adorned by the Goans living and roaming around in the downtown Saddar neighbourhood.

As we continue conversation in their shop sandwiched between two shops selling firearms, a young Muslim man suddenly appears.

Wearing shalwar kameez and donning a white prayer cap over his head, 29-year-old Muhammad Shahid meets the Christian couple. Walking by limping due to some ailment that leaves him disabled for any hard work, the vendor is here to supply packets of ballpoint pens, as he regularly does.

Suddenly, Ms Luciana does something unexpected.

While she has been making rosaries at home for her Christian customers, this Ramazan she has specially made tasbeehs for Shahid so that he can sell them and earn some money ahead of Eidul Fitr.

She hands over a bunch of tasbeehs, made from beads in different colours and different sizes, to the vendor, telling him that he could sell the bigger one for Rs150 each and the smaller one for Rs100 each.

After the vendor leaves, Ms Luciana proudly says that she has asked the vendor that the bigger tasbeeh has cost her Rs40 and smaller one for Rs30.

“I have told him to return me the cost of the items only and keep the remaining money with him, how much it may be. But, I will not even charge him for the actual of the item.”

“This is the actual spirit of the Lent. This is the actual spirit of the fast,” the couple tells Dawn in unison and get back to their work.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2022

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