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.
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.
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
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”
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.