The Archbishop of Vancouver has dispensed from the Friday Lenten abstinence Asian Catholics and their guests who are celebrating Lunar New Year Feb. 16.

“It is my pleasure to offer greetings and best wishes for a Happy New Year to all Asian Catholics in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, as well as to all who will join them in celebrating the Year of the Dog,” Archbishop John Miller wrote in his Lunar New Year Message.

“Although this year’s celebrations fall during the solemn season of Lent, it is certainly fitting that social celebrations among families and loved ones take place,” he said.

“As is customary in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, dispensation from the Lenten discipline of abstinence is granted to Asian Catholics and their guests celebrating the festival on Friday, February 16. Even so, I urge you to keep in mind the spirit of prayer and charity that we seek to practise during the Lenten season.”

Archbishop Miller concluded his message, saying: “May God’s abundant blessings be with you and your loved ones during this special time and through this entire year.”

He also asked for prayers regarding a rumored agreement in the works between the Chinese government and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops.

“I would also ask you to use this occasion to keep in your prayers current discussions between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China as they work to better the relationship between them and improve the situation for Chinese Catholics.”

The communist government of China expelled foreign missionaries after 1949, and later established the “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association,” a government-sanctioned Catholic Church. This has existed in opposition to the 'underground' Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities.

The archbishop's message was written in both English and Chinese.

The Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese people all observe a calendar in which the lunar new year falls this year on Feb. 16.

In the Vancouver archdiocese, five parishes offer Mass in Cantonese, three in Mandarin, four in Korean, and two in Vietnamese. In British Columbia (of which Vancouver is the largest city), more than 10 percent of respondents to the 2006 Canadian census identified as Chinese, and about one percent each as Korean and Vietnamese.

Dispensations like Archbishop Miller's are common throughout East Asia.

In 2015, Chinese New Year coincided with Ash Wednesday, and dispensations from the day's requirement of fasting and abstinence were granted by bishops across the Philippines and southeast Asia, or moved to a different day. Archbishop Miller also granted such a dispensation that year.

Lunar New Year, also called the Spring Festival, falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice; it will be celebrated until the Lantern Festival, observed this year March 2.

The event is celebrated culturally, and Catholics observe it with Masses of thanksgiving, blessings of cemeteries, agape meals, and sharing charitable gifts.

The festivities unite families in offering thanksgiving and in praying for their predecessors' souls.

Abstinence from meat on Fridays of Lent is obligatory for Roman Catholics from the age of 14.