Renée Mercuri

Renée Mercuri

March 9, 2015

TORONTO – Catholics around the world are participating in a 40-day Lenten fast to pray for unity in the Catholic Church and among world leaders in addressing climate change.

Organized by the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM), an international coalition of Catholic organizations and individuals advocating for climate justice, 45 countries have pledged to host one day of the 40-day Lenten season to fast from food, as well as reduce their waste and carbon consumption.

The Lenten fast in Canada was to be held on March 4.

"I didn't see the fast as a way for people to want action, but to cleanse themselves," said Renée Mercuri, who is leading the Canadian fast.

"Part of being able to act on a big world issue, I need to look inside myself first. It's like the idea that you can't go to a peace rally angry."

Mercuri said a Lenten fast makes a lot of sense to her because Lent is a time of cleansing and self-reflection.

She had always been interested in environmental issues and has a degree in environmental science from the University of Waterloo. However, it was only recently she has found a renewed sense of spirituality that has her seeing these issues in a new way.

"I think that this fast is a completely appropriate tie-in with our tradition," said John Berkman, theology professor at Toronto's Regis College and a member of GCCM.

"I'm going to fast anyway," Berkman added. "But now I'm also limiting my carbon footprint. We are a culture of consumption and when we limit our consumption through fasting, it enables us to turn to God more faithfully."

Berkman said this fast comes at a good time for the Catholic Church, especially as the world anticipates Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on ecology.

"I think this encyclical will be very important in bringing together the scattered teachings we have on the environment," he said. "It will help awaken the movement. I think that it will say a lot on climate change, how we treat the environment and non-human animals."

Berkman is one of the Canadian representatives at GCCM, along with other organizations like the Secular Franciscan Order of Canada, the English Speaking Conference of the Order of Friars Minor and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

The GCCM movement was formed Jan. 14, coinciding with Pope Francis' visit to the Philippines to meet with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.

"Pope Francis made it clear from the start that all people need to act as protecters of creation," said Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network in the United States.