Pope Francis has been offered a $1 million donation to the charity of his choice if he commits to eating a vegan diet for Lent. The challenge, first set in a letter to the Pontiff penned by 12-year-old Genesis Butler, is meant to encourage Catholics to cut animal products out of their diets for the 40-day period leading up to Easter.
Butler and Million Dollar Vegan, the non-profit behind the campaign, highlighted in their plea the positive effects of a vegan diet on factors contributing to climate change. If all of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics were to take part in a vegan Lent, it would be equivalent to the Philippines not emitting carbon dioxide for an entire year, according to Million Dollar Vegan.
A petition on Change.org supporting the challenge had been signed by 43,000 people as of February 11, but the Vatican had yet to respond to the request at this time.
The pledged $1 million was donated by the Blue Horizon International Foundation.
The Pope has been outspoken on environmental issues in the past, specifically highlighting the "grave implications" of climate change in his 2015 encyclical.
Butler cited this letter in her own address to the pontiff.
“In your encyclical letter, you stated that every effort to protect and improve our world will involve changes in lifestyle, production, and consumption,” reads Butler's letter. “I agree with all my heart and seek your support in tackling one of the largest underlying causes of the problems we face: animal agriculture.”
Butler's letter also called attention to the proven health benefits of a plant-based diet, including reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Catholics are encouraged to fast during Lent and, specifically, to abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays and on Ash Wednesday. While veganism is not necessarily required, Catholics have historically been encouraged to abstain more generally from animal products during this season.
Last year, the Pope indicated that "showing off" while fasting during Lent is inconsistent with spirit of the season, which could make it difficult for him to respond positively to such a high-profile challenge. The Pope also, however, highlighted the importance of one’s fast helping others, which would certainly be in line with the challenge.
Animal agriculture accounts for 14.5 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. A report published in May of last year showed that more than three-quarters of the world's agricultural land is used to produce livestock, which accounts for 17 percent of global caloric supply.
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