Catholics in the Rio Grande Valley who are already suffering from the physical and economic hardships caused by a global pandemic and an extreme winter storm were given permission to forgo at least one additional hardship this week — they’ll be able to eat meat Friday.

Bishop Daniel Flores granted a general dispensation in the Diocese from the law of Lenten abstinence from meat Friday, saying those who want to abstain are welcome to but acknowledging many in the area may have no choice.

“Many families in the Diocese will have no other option except to eat what they have,” he wrote in a statement. “The law does not intend to add hardship to what is already a situation of great hardship for many.”

The bishop spoke about those hardships at a candlelit Ash Wednesday Mass on Wednesday — candlelit out of necessity because the cathedral had no power.

He said this week’s winter storm woes added to a year’s worth of suffering caused by the pandemic.

“People ask me sometimes, what does it mean that we’re going through all these things since over a year now, and then with what’s going on right now in the lack of electricity and the cold — and many are suffering and many people are cold tonight,” he said. “What does God say? Well, I do not claim to be a special profit… but the scriptures tell us that God desires a people … who are really concerned about what happens to the people around them. And this is what, if anything, we should learn through what we’re living through as a people.”

Flores said in many ways he’s seen those principles being lived out in the area’s reaction to the weather and the outages it’s caused.

“I know many families in the Valley who are receiving people into their homes, people who don’t have any electricity and so are cold…,” he said. “This is the spirit of lent.”