- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Local Catholics are salivating over the chance to binge on corned beef and stew on St. Patrick’s Day, after church leaders granted them permission to eat meat on the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint.

“I think it’s a sin not to eat meat if you want meat,” said Wilhelmina Tillman, 73, of Northeast as she crumbled crackers into a bowl of vegetable soup at a cafeteria at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast yesterday.

“I know I’m going to eat meat,” she said. “But to each his own.”

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, is among dozens of high-ranking clergymen nationwide — including those in Baltimore and Northern Virginia — who have granted Catholics a dispensation from their Lenten obligation to abstain from eating meat tomorrow, which is the third Friday of Lent.

Lenten guidelines require Catholics age 14 and older to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays during Lent, and to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, according to the archdiocese.

Muriel Hanson, a tour guide at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for 26 years, said she will take advantage of the dispensation. When asked why, she said, “Because the cardinal said I could. I just won’t eat meat on Tuesday.”

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said Cardinal McCarrick issued the dispensation out of deference to the many Irish Catholics in the region, who had clamored to the cardinal for an exception.

“It’s rare that St. Patrick’s Day and Lent fall on the same day,” she said. “But [St. Patrick’s Day is] such a tradition among Irish Catholics and many other Catholics, and the traditional meal for that day is corned beef and cabbage.”

Miss Gibbs said Cardinal McCarrick’s predecessor, Cardinal James A. Hickey, issued a similar dispensation in 2000, the last time that St. Patrick’s Day coincided with Lent.

Catholics who take advantage of the dispensation are encouraged to substitute another form of sacrifice tomorrow.

“It depends on the person — they could give up another food, say extra prayers, fast, or not eat meat on another day,” Miss Gibbs said.

Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, and Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde also have given the dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day. Bishops in Milwaukee, Chicago and Boston also granted the one-day dispensations.

Sean Caine, a spokesman for Cardinal Keeler, said the cardinal always has given Catholics the option since he was appointed archbishop of Baltimore in 1989.

“There’s a large number of Catholics who celebrate and honor St. Patrick’s Day — not just Irish Catholics, but Catholics of all backgrounds,” Mr. Caine said.

Soren Johnson, a spokesman for Bishop Loverde, said Catholics in the Arlington Diocese are dispensed as long as they choose another day in the week to abstain.

Mr. Johnson said Bishop Loverde and Cardinal McCarrick will celebrate Mass tomorrow in the District.

Miss Gibbs said the chef at the archdiocese has added corned beef and cabbage to tomorrow’s menu.

Fish and tuna melt will remain on the menu for those who do not want to eat meat tomorrow, she said.

Some Catholics said they would adhere to the traditional rules of Lent and questioned the church’s leniency.

“I won’t be eating meat,” said Lucy Robertson of the District. “I know that some people will, but I won’t be. I’m not sure why they changed it.”

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