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Don’t forget to fast in Lent
HONG KONG (SE): “Don’t forget to fast in Lent,” goes the old advice for the 40-days from Ash Wednesday leading up to the celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
A February 19 statement from the diocesan Commission for Labour Affairs says that this advice is just as relevant today as it ever was.
However, while the traditional image for fasting in Lent may be sack cloth and ashes, with changing times it may no longer be the most constructive way to go about it.
Instead, the commission is calling on people to mark this Lent with a different kind of abstinence; fasting from shopping in chain stores and the glitzy malls that are proliferating in the city.
Launching a Lenten appeal for support of independent businesses, Yu Siu-po called the steady forcing of small shops out of the retail business in Hong Kong an alarming trend.
Calling for support of the old mom and pop shops, or corner stores, Yu said, “During our campaign that will last for 40 days up until April 1, we invite our fellow Catholics to look for the small shops in their neighbourhood and shop there.”
Yu said that although these options are fast disappearing, the commission is encouraging people to look for the small, independent shops when looking to buy a drink or something to eat, and avoid the supermarket chains, convenience stores and fast food outlets, as well as steering clear of designer fashion shops as much as possible when they go shopping.
Yu dubbed it a call to change the spending culture of Hong Kong and one way to do it is to vote with our own money.
Yu calls it a kind of conversion, saying that if we can modify our own life-styles, behaviour as customers and consumers, and reconsider the economic judgments that we make, then we can change the patterns of the capitalistic world.
It is within the power of the consumer to make a difference.
Yu calls Lent an appropriate time to start, as the Church calls on us to slow down, practice a bit of self-restraint and see beyond the usual distractions in life to refocus our lives on values that are important.
He said that the campaign is biblical in its origins, based on the temptation experience of Jesus in the desert when he was fasting and praying in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights.
He added that traditionally, it has been suggested that we fast from things that may not be particularly good for us, like smoking or eating candy, or fattening things.
Yu explained that we can do the same with our shopping, as Hong Kong is fast becoming a brand name adventure paradise, full of temptation to buy all sorts of expensive things that we do not need.
He is suggesting that we also look at what is being done to people in our city as well, to look at the way chain stores and shopping malls are manipulating the salaries of workers downwards and price of rents upwards.
We can use our Lenten fast to refrain from using these retail outlets and put our money into supporting the small people who are struggling and, if we can save money in the process, donate it to a project to help the poor and needy.
It is also worth asking the question of who is behind the basic dynamic that is driving our economy and our lives.
Is it the same phenomenon that Pope Pius XI referred to some 80 years ago in his encyclical, In the Fortieth Year (Quadragesimo Anno), when he said, “May economic life be again subjected to and governed by a true and effective directing principle.
“Loftier and nobler principles—social justice and social charity—must, therefore, be sought, whereby this dictatorship may be governed firmly and fully” (88)
If consumer conscience grows into a critical mass, it will put pressure on the suppliers and conglomerates, as they must respond to changed buying patterns.
In more recent times, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his encyclical, Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate), “Purchasing is always a moral—and not simply economic—act. Hence, the consumer has a specific social responsibility, which goes hand-in-hand with the social responsibility of the enterprise.”
He continues, “Consumers should be continually educated regarding their daily role, which can be exercised with respect for moral principles, without diminishing the intrinsic economic rationality of the act of the purchasing” (66).
Don’t forget to fast in Lent.
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