Pope still mulling over $1 million vegan challenge

Pontiff has not yet committed himself to enjoying a plant-based Lent

Pope Francis, Genesis Butler standing with her letter to the Pope in front of the Vatican and Million Dollar Vegan logo

Image of Pope Francis © Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock.com

While a new campaign to persuade the Pope to go vegan for Lent seems not yet to converted its high-profile target to the cause, at least it’s boosting the profile of greener eating around the world. The Million Dollar Vegan challenge, launched by the same people behind the wildly successful Veganuary campaign, asked the pontiff to give up all meat and dairy products for 40 days.

As well as getting the chance to improve his health, Pope Francis has been offered a $1 million donation to a charity of his choice, courtesy of the Blue Horizon International Foundation. The challenge has garnered the support of MFM founder Paul McCartney, naturalist Chris Packham and Hollywood actor Joaquin Phoenix, and is fronted by green teen activist Genesis Butler, 12.

Responding to Genesis on behalf of the Pope, the Vatican’s Monsignor Paolo Borgio wrote: “His Holiness Pope Francis has received your letter, and he has asked me to thank you. He appreciates the concerns about care for the world, our common home, which prompted you to write to him. The Holy Father will remember you in his prayers, and he sends you his blessing.”

While the Pope has technically not yet confirmed or denied he is taking part in the challenge, the campaign is continuing in its attempts to persuade him. Genesis has asked to meet him over Lent to discuss the concerns that she and millions of others have about the environment, and to explain how changing the way we eat can help curb global warming. In a video message, the teenager thanked the Pope for his response and blessing, and invited him out for dinner and a chat: “I would love to know if you would meet for a vegan dinner with me, so that we can discuss the important issues of protecting our planet,” she said.

Whatever Francis decides, the campaign has at the very least succeeded in raising the profile of nutritious, delicious diets that do not cost the planet. With 1.2 million Roman Catholics in the world, it’s likely that many people will now have a greater understanding of how personal decisions as basic as what to eat for dinner can have a huge impact on the planet.

The Pope is known to be concerned about the state of the world and humanity’s role in causing the current climate crisis. In 2015, he published an encyclical, calling on the faithful to do more to protect the environment. Now Matthew Glover, the chief executive of Million Dollar Vegan and co-founder of Veganuary, is “politely requesting” that Francis put words into action. He wants the pontiff to “address the issues of climate change, loss of biodiversity, species extinction, animal suffering and world hunger – all of which are linked to animal agriculture” – and to meet with Genesis.

“We would like His Holiness to consider what Jesus would say about factory farming,” he added, “and also the fact that – according to research from Oxford University – we can reduce our personal greenhouse gas emissions by around 30-50 percent by adopting a plant-based diet.”