Family Fast Days……How did they all begin??

Gloria Turner has been an office volunteer for CAFOD Brentwood since September 2017. Here she shares her findings on how CAFOD Family Fast Days began and what fasting means to her.

Having been involved in recent weeks with preparations for the approaching Lent Fast Day  I decided to find out more about why we fast and how Fast Days began.  What I discovered about the First Fast Day is an inspirational story.


Mother and Baby clinic in Dominica 1960

I was interested to learn that it all began with 2 women, Jacquie Stuyt and Elspeth Orchard, responding to a request from the people of the Caribbean island of Dominica to help raise funds for a mother-and-baby clinic.

They came together with others from the National Board of Catholic Women, the Catholic Women’s League and the Union of Catholic Mothers to organise the first Family Fast Day in 1960.


Jacqueline Stuyt and Sr Alicia, original volunteers for fundraising for the mother and baby healthcare clinic in Dominica

On Friday 11 March 1960 the group of Catholic women asked everyone in the family to make an act of self-denial. They asked children to give up  sweets and for their parents to make just one main cheap meal for the family and give the money they saved to feed people who were hungry.

Who would have believed that such a simple idea would have such a huge impact around the world as this remains at the heart of CAFOD Family Fast Days today.

The organisers expected to raise just a few hundred pounds, but the Catholic community responded with amazing generosity, donating more than £6,000 – the equivalent of £96,000 today.  Imagine how thrilled these groups of women must have been with that response!

“We weren’t doing anything special, we were just doing what we thought we ought to do, remembering that we are all God’s children.” Elspeth Orchard


The group of women who organised the first Family Fast Day in 1960

As well as funding the new clinic, the project also helped people to survive and make a living for themselves, including providing water and teaching people how to plant vegetable gardens. This determination to tackle the root causes of poverty and help people fulfil their potential is still at the heart of everything CAFOD does.

CAFOD Family Fast Day has always been as much about prayer as about giving. Elspeth Orchard explained:

“We were very keen that we should do it not just as a giving thing, but as a praying thing. We should really make an effort to remember people, not just by giving them food, but by doing what we could do to support them”


Opening of the centre in 1964

So this amazing story has shown me what can be achieved by a small group of people wanting to help others.  CAFOD has grown from just two women, Jacqui and Elspeth, fundraising by encouraging fasting, to the great charity organisation it is today.

My attitude to fasting is very different now compared to the days when I “gave something up for Lent” when I was growing up.

Fasting allows me to:

  • reflect on how fortunate I am in always having sufficient food
  • be more aware of those who don’t have enough food and to symbolise an act of solidarity
  • slow down my pace of life to spend more time in reflection and prayer
  • remember how fast days began with that small group of women in Dominica

We fast not only to donate money saved to those in need but also to set aside time to pray for them.  It is also a time for reflection of our own lives and lifestyles.

 “While the world around us may have changed, our efforts and values remain the same: to act, through our faith, to transform the lives of those most in need. Poverty is not part of God’s plan – we believe a better world is possible.” Chris Bain, CAFOD’s Director


I did not know how Fast Days began before I started volunteering for CAFOD.  For me, from now on, Fast Days will always bring this great story to mind and I will be much more aware of how small sacrifices from me can help other families to live more fulfilled and sustainable lives.






Ficamaua! A young person reflects…

Chris Burkette is a young person from the Brentwood Diocese who is currently on CAFOD’s Step into the GAP programme. He writes:Chris cropped

“I recently ran a CAFOD workshop to help inform young people within the Brentwood Diocese of the events unfolding in the Maua community. As part of this workshop they were required to build a ‘home’ anywhere on the retreat site, to be as welcoming and cosy as they saw fit. After having visited each home, I was then tasked with destroying this space and leaving an eviction notice for them. Together we learnt about how this was connected to the situation in Sao Paulo: a place once left in need of rejuvenation but now blossoming…this all thanks to the locals there who over the past decade have put such hard work into returning the place to its original beauty.

Youth gather Mersea Island 2

Ficamaua! Brentwood youth gather to show their support for residents in the Maua community in Sau Paulo, Brazil

Until recently all of this was being threatened due to a court order to evict the 237 families from their homes at the end of November. To our great joy this eviction has been averted with the recent agreement between the housing department and the owner of the building for the purchase of the Maua building for around £4.6 million (20 million reais).

CAFOD believes that everyone has the power within them to stand up to such cases of injustice. CAFOD ask people to GAP: Give. Act. Pray. An amazing 4,000 people across England and Wales have signed the petition to demonstrate their solidarity with the people of the Maua community in Sao Paulo. We will continue to show our solidarity through our actions and prayers as we do in all cases of injustice and threats to human dignity.

Pope Francis; a shining example of someone who believes in and leads a life of generous giving reminds us “We should always remember the dignity and rights of those who work, condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and help to ensure authentic progress by man and society.” I relate this to the hard work the residents have put into renovating their community. I believe that it is our duty to demonstrate our belief in their dignity through not only kind acts but through responding to this eviction order.

Facu Mau sign (002)I personally believe that it can be very difficult in the world today to know exactly when we should show signs of love to others around us due to fear of being manipulated or taken advantage of. To show love to others is to take a rather bold step; one of which a large amount of Faith is required to achieve”.

A reflection on Peace

Chris Burkette, a young person who is currently on our Step into the Gap Programme, reflects on the personal and public fruits of peace. Step into the Gap, CAFOD’s gap year programme, is an opportunity to volunteer in the UK, gain experience, develop leadership skills and visit an international CAFOD partner. 

With widespread talk in the world today of war and conflict it can feel that World leaders hold ‘Peace’ furthest from their thoughts, but as Christians we too must instigate ‘Peace’ not just in public but everyday with each other.

CAFOD base their work within a mission of Peace to lend a helping hand to our worldly neighbours through working very closely with their partners abroad.  These partners act as Disciples of Christ, preaching hope and love to all.

CAFOD holds strong values aimed to maintain Peace, for instance through Compassion and Hope. Altogether there is a combination of 7 Values: Compassion, Solidarity, Hope, Partnership, Dignity, Justice and Stewardship.

I believe that Peace is an important part of having faith. It is something I have struggled with for some time in my own Faith journey. The struggle being the issue of finding that deep inner Peace within being myself and so being able to generate a radiant Peace to all others.  I used to think that inner ‘Peace’ was having everything in my personal life sorted but I have recently come to realise that it is quite the opposite.  We must first be able to love ourselves as the unique creations we are from God before appreciating those around us.

Youth gather Mersea Island

Finding Peace on Mersea Island at the recent BCYS Youth Gather

We learn from Jesus that all of the Commandments simply hinge upon love firstly of God then of love of neighbour. I believe a fruit of this love is Peace which we can build within us over time. Along with this fruit, the Holy Spirit gives us the Gift of Joy to accompany love!

On my placement within Brentwood I am so often awe-stricken from the encounters I experience with Young people; so many of which carry out acts of Kindness, often simple acts even as opening a door or listening to others around them. In these times I feel the need to help, encourage and nurture other people’s Faith along with my own. I am only able to do so by God working through these people on retreat. It’s at these times I feel my faith strengthened.

Youth gather Mersea Island 2

Young people at the Youth Gather event show their solidarity with the homeless families of the Maua Community

I’d end on the note that not only the Church needs Peace but also young people altogether, who need models of inspiration to demonstrate acts of Peace to one another. Now St John Paul ll refers to the young people of today as the Hope of the Church tomorrow – “In you young people there is hope, for you belong to the future, as the future belongs to you”. These words fill me with both a sense of Joy but feeling of responsibility for my future and the future of others I encounter.