Christian Ramadan?

lent 01Since I love analyzing media coverage of the liturgical calendar, there is no way I could let this story from The Telegraph go without comment. Apparently, some Dutch Catholics are trying to encourage folks to embrace the penitential season of Lent. That's the good news:

Dutch Catholics have re-branded the Lent fast as the "Christian Ramadan" in an attempt to appeal to young people who are more likely to know about Islam than Christianity.

The Catholic charity Vastenaktie, which collects for the Third World across the Netherlands during the Lent period, is concerned that the Christian festival has become less important for the Dutch over the last generation.

"The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent," said Vastenaktie Director, Martin Van der Kuil.

Kudos to the reporters who found the story. Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant first covered the story at the beginning of Lent. And most reporters have put the story in context. Here's how Bruno Waterfield at The Telegraph handled it:

Three decades ago the Catholic Church was as strict as many Muslims are about Ramadan with a total ban on meat and alcohol during the 40-day Lenten period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

Most Dutch Catholics now focus on charitable work after the Vatican loosened fasting strictures for all but the first and last days of Lent back in 1967.

Four million Dutch describe themselves as Roman Catholics and 400,000 people attend Mass every week but only a few tens of thousands still mark Lent by fasting, said Mr Van der Kuil

Vastenaktie organisers hope that by linking the festival to Ramadan they can remind Christians who may be less observant than Muslims of the "spirituality and sobriety" of Lent.

I hope that follow-up stories consider the implications of this rebranding of Lent. What does it mean that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young Dutch than Lent? It's easy to write the first story but rebranding Lent as Ramadan is a symptom of a larger condition and one that could use some sensible reporting.

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