Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, and though some Catholics will be giving up sugar or coffee or junk food, others will be taking the 40-day test of self control one step further. They’ll be giving up food (or at least one meal) for at least one day during Lent, and will be doing so as a call for action on climate change.
During the Lenten Fast for Climate Justice, participating Catholics from 45 countries will abstain from food for one day, with the date of the fast depending on what country the participant is from. Americans will be fasting on March 16. This fast will be held in addition to the two other traditional fasting days during Lent: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
The group organizing the fast, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, is also encouraging participants to abstain from activities that produce carbon emissions or waste during their fasting day. It’s also encouraging participants to pray for “the urgent solution of the climate change crisis” and for “easing the suffering of the poor and those affected by disease and severe weather” during their fasting day.
“The essential message is reduce our carbon footprint and increase our spiritual footprint,” Jacqui Rémond, director of Catholic Earthcare Australia, which is organizing Australia’s fast, said.
The fast comes about a month after Pope Francis told reporters that he thought climate change was mostly the fault of human beings. It also comes a few months after news broke that, this year, Pope Francis would be releasing an influential document called an encyclical on why Catholics should do their part to mitigate climate change. The document will be distributed to thousands of Catholic bishops and priests around the world, who will then distribute it to parishioners.
Francis has been outspoken on environmental issues in the past, too. Last May, Francis told a crowd to “safeguard Creation, because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!” Francis also sent a letter to G20 leaders last November that referenced the “constant assaults on the natural environment,” which the Pope said were “the result of unbridled consumerism.”
Pope Francis didn’t address climate change specifically in this year’s Lenten address, but some of his comments are applicable to those fasting for action on climate change.
“As individuals too, we have are tempted by indifference. Flooded with news reports and troubling images of human suffering, we often feel our complete inability to help. What can we do to avoid being caught up in this spiral of distress and powerlessness?” Francis said in his address. “First, we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven. Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer!”
Climate activists have fasted before to call attention to the need for climate action. In 2013, Yeb Sano, then climate commissioner for the Philippines, went on a two-week fast during the U.N. climate talks to protest the lack of global action on the issue. Climate activists also went on a hunger strike during the 2009 U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen. The Fast for the Climate movement has also organized once-a-month fasts around the world.