The first Family Fast Day

CAFOD was founded when women from the National Board of Catholic Women, the Catholic Women’s League and the Union of Catholic Mothers organised the first CAFOD Family Fast Day in 1960. Mildred Nevile, who was involved at the time, shares her memories of this key moment in CAFOD history.

Women of the World, with Sr Alicia - CAFOD
The group who organised the first Family Fast Day, with CAFOD’s first partner, Sr Alicia.

When Fast Day first took place, many families saw it as an opportunity to practice giving something up – voluntarily – and for the sake of others.

In the early 1960s, the Catholic community was much less affluent than it is today. Many people had known hardship and poverty and had sympathy for those who were struggling to survive.

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Frequently those opening the envelopes from Fast Day appeals were deeply humbled by the letters that accompanied donations.


Small acts of kindness

‘Please accept this small offering from myself and the children – the eldest girl, five years, entered into the spirit of fasting with zest, no big dinner, no sweets.’

One pensioner donated five pounds (at that time the weekly pension for an elderly person), saying the need of others was greater than hers.

Sister Alicia and foreman on the new hospital building site, Dominica - CAFOD
Sister Alicia and foreman on the new hospital building site, Dominica

I can remember one couple who had saved up to buy a new carpet for their living room, but when they were made aware of people’s needs in other countries, they decided to forego the carpet and give what they had saved to Family Fast Day.

One global family

It is this recognition that we are all one family that is so humbling. And in those early days the message was quite clear:

‘Millions of people in the world are hungry and they are hungry largely because the good fruits of the earth are enjoyed by too few – and we are among the few. There is enough food for all – if only it could be fairly shared’ (quoted from the 1961 leaflet).

Solidarity, compassion and gratitude

It is this spirit that is still at the heart of CAFOD’s work: a genuine solidarity with those who are less fortunate than ourselves; compassion for those in need; gratitude for the gifts God has given us; and a sense of relief that we can do something to help those who, on a one-to-one basis, we would never be able to reach.

The opening of the new hospital in Dominica, 1964 - CAFOD
The opening of the new hospital in Dominica, 1964

Money raised from the first Family Fast Day was used to fund a mother-and-baby clinic in Dominica.

By Mildred Nevile from an interview in 2009, member of the first CAFOD committee and later a CAFOD trustee.

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