Fact Check

Did Pope Francis Say 'Eat Whatever You Want For Easter'?

Holding with long-standing tradition, the pope released a message commemorating the beginning of Lent.

Published Feb. 18, 2024

 (Vatican Pool / Getty Images)
Image Via Vatican Pool / Getty Images
Claim:
Pope Francis said or wrote a passage beginning with, "Eat whatever you want for Easter, the sacrifice is not in the stomach, but in the heart."

On Feb. 14, 2024, millions of Catholics around the world received a traditional ash cross on their foreheads to mark the beginning of Lent — the 40-day period before Easter that, according to Catholic doctrine, represents Jesus Christ's trek through the desert, when he fasted and resisted the temptation of Satan.

Holding with long-standing tradition, Pope Francis released a message commemorating the beginning of Lent. That statement is publicly available on the Vatican's official website.

But on social media platforms like Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter) and LinkedIn, a different message, supposedly from the pope himself, spread to mark the religious observance:

"Eat whatever you want for Easter, the sacrifice is not in the stomach, but in the heart. They refrain from eating meat, but don't talk to their siblings or relatives, don't visit their parents or bother them to attend to them. Don't share food with the needy, forbid children to see their father, forbid grandparents to see their grandchildren, criticize other people's lives, beat their wife, etc., A good barbeque or beef stew won't make you a bad person, just like a fish fillet won't turn you a saint. Better seek to have a deeper relationship with God through better treatment of others let's be less arrogant and more humble at heart." - Pope Francis

Based on our research, this was not a real message from the pope.

The first clue of the quote's illegitimacy: The text says "for Easter" people can supposedly "eat whatever [they] want." While Easter and Lent are certainly related, only the latter is associated with fasting.

As part of Lent, Catholics refrain from certain activities or indulgences to symbolically replicate Jesus' supposed resistance against temptations. Such "sacrifices" vary from person to person and often involve food. An incredibly common practice is to refrain from eating meat on Fridays (this is actually why McDonalds' Filet-O-Fish exists). That said, some Catholics choose to give up other things instead of (or in addition to) meat on Fridays.

In the Catholic calendar, an observance known as Holy Thursday, which is three days before Easter, marks the end of the fast.

When we searched for the text, no credible source of the quote appeared. Because the Vatican releases transcripts of the Pope's writings and speeches online, we next looked through those materials. We did not find the passage there.

Because there's no evidence of him writing, or saying, the passage in an official Vatican source or reliable news outlet, we rated this claim as "Miscaptioned."

It's unknown who, or what, authored the passage with a rather innocuous message about doing good in the world.

We've fact-checked many claims about things the pope has supposedly said or done, like comments about gay and transgender individuals or a misattributed message that spread on social media about what's important in life.

Sources

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"Here Are 32 Ideas for What to Give up for Lent (And When to Start)." Country Living, 17 Feb. 2023, https://www.countryliving.com/life/g26473567/give-up-for-lent/.
"Https://Twitter.Com/JimSichko/Status/1757761878153900292." X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/JimSichko/status/1757761878153900292. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.
Kandra, Deacon Greg. "The Pope Said WHAT?!" Deacon Greg Kandra, 13 Feb. 2024, https://thedeaconsbench.com/the-pope-said-what/.
Log in or Sign up to View. https://www.facebook.com/login/. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.
Magazine, Smithsonian, and K. Annabelle Smith. "The Fishy History of the McDonald's Filet-O-Fish Sandwich." Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-fishy-history-of-the-mcdonalds-filet-o-fish-sandwich-2912/. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.
Message of the Holy Father Francis for Lent 2024. https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2024/02/01/240201c.html. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.
Pasion, Lorenz. "FACT CHECK: Pope Francis Quote on Eating 'whatever You Want' during Lent Is Fake." RAPPLER, 15 Feb. 2024, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/fact-check/pope-francis-quote-eat-whatever-you-want-during-lent-fake/.
Pope at Ash Wednesday Mass: Jesus Calls Us to Return to Our Heart This Lent - Vatican News. 14 Feb. 2024, https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2024-02/pope-at-beginning-of-lent-jesus-calls-us-to-return-to-our-heart.html.
"Pope Urges Catholics to Swap Social Media for Reflection as Lent Begins." Reuters, 14 Feb. 2024. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/pope-urges-catholics-swap-social-media-reflection-lent-begins-2024-02-14/.
Steve Hendricks on LinkedIn: ❤️"Eat Whatever You Want for LENT. Sacrifice Is Not in the Stomach, But…. https://www.linkedin.com/posts/steve-hendricks-88622619_eat-whatever-you-want-for-lent-sacrifice-activity-7162699964471558145-54qd. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.
"What Is Ash Wednesday? Here's What to Know about the Holy Day Marking the Beginning of Lent." USA TODAY, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2024/02/13/what-is-ash-wednesday/72573370007/. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

Jack Izzo is a Chicago-based journalist and two-time "Jeopardy!" alumnus.