Fast and Abstinence: In Perspective...

Yolen Jenuky sells mud cookies in Cite Soleil, the poorest section of Haiti's capitol city, Port au Prince.

Fast and Abstinence In Lent
All Christians are called to special prayer, fasting and caring for the poor in the season of Lent. Each person determines how he or she will personally live out these ancient Lenten exercises. In addition to personal Lenten practices, Catholics are also called to a communal practice of self-denial through fasting and abstinence.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau. The mud has long been used by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings, and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt, and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal. "When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds, 3 ounces, he weighed at birth. Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky, too," she said.

Ash Wednesday Is a Day of Fast and Abstinence
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics over 14 years of age are expected to abstain from eating meat on this day. Catholics 18 years of age and up to the beginning of their 60th year are expected to fast: taking only one full meal and two other light meals, eating nothing between meals.

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher prices for oil, which is needed for fertilizer, irrigation, and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well. The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places… At the market in the La Saline slum, a two-cup portion of rice now sells for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk, and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say. Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared with food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

All the Fridays of Lent Are Days of Abstinence
Catholics over 14 years of age are expected to abstain from eating meat on the Fridays of Lent.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies… Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which Fort Dimanche is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun. The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets. A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered… Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them. "I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me." (By Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press, January 31, 2008)

Good Friday Is a Day of Fast and Abstinence
On Good Friday, Catholics over 14 years of age are expected to abstain from eating meat on this day. Catholics 18 years of age and up to the beginning of their 60th year are expected to fast: taking only one full meal and two other light meals, eating nothing between meals.

On Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday of Lent, Holy Family Parish will distribute containers for you to place in your kitchen or on the table where you take your meals. During Lent, you can place the money you saved by fast and abstinence in the containers. We will collect the containers at the end of Lent and all contributions made in this way will go to the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation for their nutrition programs.


  1. I am glad you reprinted this story. When I read it first in the Globe, I was truly sickened with sadness at what the people of Haiti go through and have gone through for so long. I hope that all of our parishioners will give generously to the Lenten collection boxes for St. Boniface. They do such wonderful work. I pray everyday for "the poor of the world especially our brothers and sisters in Haiti."

  2. I am in shock which I feel trying to morph into some kind of denial or self induced amnesia. I can't let this emotion go until I figure out a way to do something to help. Thank you for the link.

  3. Soutenus, you HAVE done something - but sharing the link with the readers on your blog. I'm grateful that you have helped spread the word of both the misery of these Haitian people and of the St. Boniface Foundation which works so selflessly to make a difference in their lives.

  4. Is Soutenus one of the links on your sidebar, Concord Pastor, under a different name?

  5. Thanks, Daisy, for pointing out an omission. Soutenous blogs at A Catholic Notebook which is now linked on the sidebar.

  6. My knowledge of this small foundation leads me to say that not a penny is wasted in their work for the poor of Haiti. These folks work long and hard and with great love to do everything they can to help there.

  7. It is with both a heavy heart and a beautiful rememberence of my visit to Haiti with St. Boniface a few years back. All you need to do is see what SBHF has and continues to do. The people of Haiti are most gracious and lovely people who live in such poverty that once you experience thier country, you will never forget what and how our brothers and sisters in Haiti live. I urge everyone who can give whatever they can,please do! Please get the word out. Every little bit helps, and believe me when I say that SBHF is an amazing foundation that truly loves the Haitian people. If you are lucky enough to travel to Haiti with SBHF, I would highly recommend it. You will most definitely come home from a very spiritual and rewarding trip, and you will be forever changed by the experience.


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