Celebrating Fifty Years of Family Fast Day

The First Family Fast Day Poster

At 2pm on Saturday, 13 February, we will hold an exhibition and service at Northampton Cathedral  to
remember and celebrate the initiative which launched CAFOD’s Family Fast Day.

In 1960 a group of Catholic women did something extraordinary. They organised the first Family Fast Day, which led directly to the founding of CAFOD.

A Short History

The seeds of that first Family Fast Day were sown back in 1957, when Elizabeth von Strachotinsky, the Austrian representative of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations (WUCWO) heard the Director General of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Mr Shri Binay Ranjan Sen, speak about the extreme situation of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world. Elizabeth was inspired to do something to help as well as to give thanks for the answered prayers for peace in her own country, and the first Family Fast day was born.

Jacqueline Stuyt-Simpson, who was the UK representative on WUCWO and a member of the National Board of Catholic Women took the idea to her fellow NBCW members and Jacquie, along with fellow members Elspeth Orchard, Evelyn White and Norma Warmington decided that a Fast Day should be organised and promoted throughout Catholic parishes in England and Wales. The members of the NBCW approached the FAO to find out if there was a project that they could support.

Sister Mary Alicia MBE, a dynamic Belgian nun form the Missionary Sisters of St Augustine was trying to raise money for a project she had founded in Dominica, one of the Caribbean Windward Islands. Children were dying from lack of food and this was particularly acute in one of the parishes in the capital, Dominica, where 80% of newborns had died in one year. She had approached the FAO but they would not normally deal with such a small project!  However, just then they received the approach from the NBWC and put them in touch

The first Family Fast Day was held on 11 March 1960. Around 600,000 hand-made leaflets were distributed around parishes in England and Wales, asking people to “go without, so that others may have”. With the Bishops’ approval the members of the NBWC wrote to every parish priest.  They also wrote to the representatives of the Union of Catholic Mothers and Catholic Women’s League or other women’s organisations in the parishes asking for their support.

They hoped to raise £500 but actually raised £6000. Following another successful appeal in Lent 1961, the initiative was taken up by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and CAFOD was formed in 1962.

CAFOD has gone from strength to strength, supporting millions of people over the last 50 years, giving poor communities the means to help themselves. Whilst we look back to our beginnings, and of the help that was given to the poor community in Dominica back in the early sixties, so we also look forward to what we can achieve in the year to come.

In this 50th year, we are asking people to “give it up” during Lent. Follow the link to find out more. Click here.

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