German Catholics ‘Fasting’ for the Environment

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by David Nussman  •  •  February 18, 2020   

Four Catholic dioceses join Protestant-created 'climate fast'

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BERLIN ( - Catholics in Germany are planning penances for Lent to combat climate change. 

Multiple dioceses in Germany are promoting Klimafasten, or "climate fasting," for Lent this year. A brochure for the Klimafasten campaign states, "With this fasting action, we are in the Christian tradition which commemorates suffering in the time before Easter, and consciously practices renunciation in order to become free for new thoughts and different behavior."

The eco-fasting campaign's motto: "As much as you need."

Organizers go on to say, "Climate change is causing suffering because it endangers the lives of people, animals and plants. Protecting the climate requires renunciation."

The Klimafasten campaign began among Protestants in Germany, but now has spread to four Catholic dioceses: the archdiocese of Berlin, the diocese of Hildesheim, the diocese of Eichstätt and the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart.

The motto for this year's Lenten eco-fasting campaign is "So viel du brauchst," or "As much as you need." The pamphlet also speaks of "fasting for climate protection and climate justice" ("Fasten für Klimaschutz und Klimagerechtigkeit").

Klimafasten emphasizes reducing one's impact on the environment, such as by riding a bicycle instead of driving, or reducing the amount of trash that gets thrown away.

For each week of Lent, Klimafasten offers a specific focus or theme. Below, translated to English, are the themes for week:

  • One: For My Ecological Footprint
  • Two: For My Energy [i.e. energy consumption]
  • Three: For Saving Food
  • Four: For Fair Information and Communication Technologies
  • Five: For Another Mobility [i.e. alternatives to automobiles]
  • Six: For a Plastic-Free Life
  • Seven: For Collective Changes

The association of Lent with fasting is hard-baked into the German language: the German word for Lent is "Fastenzeit," meaning something like "fasting-time."

The brochures encourage people "to feel and experience what I really need, what is important for a good life in harmony with creation."

Protecting the climate requires renunciation.

In Catholic tradition, fasting is primarily about honoring God, meriting grace, doing penance for sins and growing in self-control.

In the Summa Theologica (II-II, q.147, a.1), St. Thomas Aquinas said that fasting has a threefold purpose: "in order to bridle the lusts of the flesh," "in order that the mind may arise more freely to the contemplation of heavenly things," and "in order to satisfy for sins."

In that same part of the Summa, St. Thomas quotes a sermon of St. Augustine of Hippo that states, "Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one's flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself."

On a similar note, the Catechism of the Council of Trent declares, "Fasting is most intimately connected with prayer. For the mind of one who is filled with food and drink is so borne down as not to be able to raise itself to the contemplation of God, or even to understand what prayer means."

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