Fasting for Mother Earth
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Almost one year ago, Pope Francis changed the world when he published Laudato Si’, his letter on the environment.

In it, he says that human activity is mostly to blame for global climate change, and he offers an invitation: “In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.”

Lent is the right time to accept this invitation. These 40 days are an opportunity for us to allow the Holy Spirit to change us from within. “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change,” Pope Francis says in Laudato Si’. “We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.”

Our faith tradition offers three Lenten practices—fasting, almsgiving and prayer—to change ourselves and the world:

Fasting can be one of the most powerful acts of setting straight our priorities. When we fast, we focus on the essentials, and we become aware of superior concerns: the movement of the Spirit in prayer; sparks of compassion ignited by Jesus’ call to love of neighbor; the wonder of God’s creation that urges us to do more to care for the earth.

Last December, 195 countries signed the climate agreement in Paris and agreed that the world is in a climate crisis—that we must act now to slow the rise in global temperature. They committed to phasing out fossil fuels and to shifting to 100 percent renewable energy sources. This may be the greatest fast that the world ever experiences.

Almsgiving is the work of justice and compassion toward our neighbor and creation. Almsgiving challenges us to not only share our resources and talents but also experience a change of heart by seeing through the eyes of the hungry, the prisoner or the homeless. In his encyclical, Pope Francis calls us to an “ecological conversion” that deepens our commitment to caring for the earth and the poor.

“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” the Holy Father asks. “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”

Prayer, the third traditional practice, is our nourishment during Lent. Pope Francis’ invitation challenges the way we consume, share and care for the environment and for each other. These challenges can be confusing and even overwhelming. Prayer is our source of strength, our time to reflect and to “dig deeper” to find the peace and confidence to face whatever challenges lay before us.

Faith in action:

Make a personal fast
Eat less meat and fewer dairy products. Meat and dairy products are a major driver of climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions in their production and distribution chains, according to data from United Nations agencies. Consider abstaining one day a week and buy local food. Locally produced food is fresher and requires less energy to produce and transport.

The plan that the Obama Administration submitted to the U.N. climate summit includes the Clean Power Plan. It establishes the first-ever national carbon standards and limits on carbon pollution from power plants, which are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Urge Congress to support the Clean Power Plan.

Pray before meals
“That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labors provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.” – Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, based in Washington, D.C., is a resource for Maryknoll on matters of peace, social justice and integrity of creation, and brings Maryknoll’s mission experience into U.S. policy discussions. Phone (202) 832-1780, visit or email

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About the author

Susan Gunn

Susan Gunn is director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.