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As Luck Would Have It, Bishops Allow Meat on St. Patrick's Day

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006; B01

Corned beef and cabbage will be on the menu tomorrow. Call it a gift from Saint Patrick.

Despite the Vatican's prohibition against eating meat on Fridays during Lent, Catholic bishops in about one-third of the country's 197 dioceses have issued a one-day waiver of the rule, citing the benefits of Irish American tradition and community. After all, what do you wash down with green beer if not corned beef and cabbage?

Among the bishops granting the dispensation are those in Washington, Baltimore, Arlington and Richmond, the four dioceses that cover the Washington region. All except Richmond did the same in 2000, the last time St. Patrick's Day fell on a Friday during Lent.

"I think it's marvelous," said Pat Troy, who moved to Virginia from Ireland and runs a pub called Ireland's Own in Old Town Alexandria. "It took the hardship away from people." On the subject of economic hardship, he noted that his business attracts more than 2,000 people on St. Patrick's Day and that tables have been booked since last week.

The culinary identities of the non-Irish are also at stake, especially in an area as diverse as Washington. The Rev. Jose Eugenio Hoyos, a Colombian who ministers to Salvadorans in Northern Virginia, has the Irish holiday to thank for the pork pupusas he will be serving tomorrow night.

"That's great news! I can change the menu!" he said yesterday when he heard that Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde had waived the no-meat rule. Earlier Hoyos, who heads the Spanish Apostolate at the diocese, had planned to serve lobster at a dinner party he is hosting for a group of Central American ambassadors.

For centuries, the Vatican required Catholics to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays to observe the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Forty years ago, it decided that Catholics needed to follow that rule only during Lent, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

The bishops who waived the rule for this St. Patrick's Day said that Catholics eating meat should offset their action by making another sacrifice tomorrow or on another day during Lent.

Some local Catholics said they still plan to avoid meat tomorrow, despite their bishop's permission to indulge.

"I don't pay attention to dispensation. You can have St. Patrick's Day without eating meat," said Hung Nguyen, 35, of Chantilly, a Vietnamese American who will celebrate the holiday at a Shriner's Hall party in Fairfax County. "I won't be eating meat -- but I'll be having my Guinness."

All Christians are called upon to pray and perform acts of charity during Lent, a solemn period of penance. Among Catholics, there has been more focus in recent years on doing good deeds rather than on giving up something pleasurable, said Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean of Catholic University's School of Theology and Religious Studies.

"In the last 30 years, there has been an emphasis on the positive -- giving money for food, working at a soup kitchen -- not worrying so much about amounts of food we eat and instead about how we can help others eat," he said.

Irwin said he has childhood memories of his father, who was a plumber, going to confession during Lent and asking the priest for dispensation from the meat ban. The priest always granted the request.

"His work required him to ingest enough to sustain his work," he said. "I'll never forget it."

That resonates with Manuel Aviles, 26, who was born in El Salvador and lives in Arlington. He said that although he might not get around to celebrating St. Patrick's Day tomorrow night, he will have a busy day at work and needs the extra energy meat gives him.

"I agree with the dispensation. It gives people the opportunity to celebrate as a family, and that's the most important part of the church, so praise God," Aviles said.

The talk was more of fish and chips in dioceses where bishops opted to leave the ban in place, including Columbus, Ohio, Sioux City, Iowa, and Harrisburg, Pa.

Mike Larkin of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish organization, in York, Pa., said he was surprised by the decision of Harrisburg Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.

"Isn't he Irish?" Larkin said of Rhoades.

Larkin said that he usually follows the rules and doesn't eat meat -- and that he would observe the ban this year as well if he weren't headed to the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York. The ban on meat has definitely been lifted there, as Saint Patrick is the city's patron saint.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company