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The Catholic Committee of Appalachia presented its annual Bishop Sullivan Justice and Peace and Federation of Communities in Service (FOCIS) awards at its 46th annual gathering September 10, 2016 in Ravenna, Kentucky. The Bishop Sullivan and FOCIS awards recognize individuals and organizations, respectively, whose tireless work for justice in the region exemplifies the vision of the Appalachian pastorals and Catholic social teaching. The recipients of each year’s awards typically hail from the state where that year’s annual gathering is held.
This year’s Bishop Sullivan award was presented to two Kentucky priests widely known for their justice work. Jesuit Fr. Al Fritsch is a nationally known writer and activist and a giant in the church in Appalachia. Fritsch has been associated with CCA from its founding. He was instrumental in the development of CCA’s first pastoral letter, “This Land is Home to Me,” founded the non-profit Appalachia – Science in the Public Interest, and started the well-regarded website Earth Healing, which began to offer daily meditations, homilies, and videos on the care of creation well before it became popular in church circles. Fritsch is the author of many books, including Down to Earth Spirituality, Eco-Church, Ecotourism in Appalachia, Jesus Christ Activist, and Appalachian Water Reflections. He still serves in parishes in eastern Kentucky and his life’s work continues to inspire many young activists.
Fr. John Rausch has lived and served in Appalachia with Glenmary Home Missioners and CCA for more than 40 years promoting justice and peace, with special focus in recent years on mountaintop removal coal mining and other environmental issues. John has also been on the front lines of many protests and demonstrations advocating for workers, and in doing so shows that there need not be a conflict in promoting the dignity of workers and the dignity of Earth. His writing has appeared in local and national media, and he recently appeared in a segment on the Al-Jazeera network. Rausch served as Executive Director of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia from 2005-2013. His devotion to Appalachia and its people is evidenced by his long commitment in working to improve the lives of others and raising consciousness among people in other parts of the country.
The 2016 FOCIS Award went to the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED). Since 1976, MACED has partnered with local people to build upon the strengths of Kentucky and Central Appalachia, creating alternatives and striving to make our communities better places to live. MACED’s work emphasizes three areas: 1) strengthening the energy and forestry sectors, 2) promoting entrepreneurship and homegrown development, and 3) influencing Kentucky’s economic policy and advancing Appalachian transition.
The Bishop Sullivan Award is named for the late Walter Sullivan, former Bishop of the Diocese of Richmond and former Bishop Liaison of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. The FOCIS Award is named for the Federation of Communities in Service, a community development organization founded in 1967 by former Glenmary sisters, many of whom were some of the founding members of CCA.
Over 80 members of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia met for the organization’s 46th annual gathering, September 9-11, 2016 at Aldersgate Camp and Retreat Center in Ravenna, Kentucky. This year’s theme was “Still Uneven: Hope Rises with the Telling” and focused on economic justice in the region. The gathering commemorated the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter Economic Justice for All and also celebrated the late 2015 release of CCA’s “people’s pastoral,” The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us.
CCA member Margaret Gabriel reported on the gathering for The Record newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville:
Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington welcomed the 80 attendees and told them about the first time he read the committee’s pastoral letters, “This Land is Home to Me,” and “At Home in the Web of Life.”
At the time, he said, he was a graduate student at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkley, Calif., and recalls telling his classmates, “Look how the church teaches here. Minds and wills have come together to make something happen.”
After his ordination as Bishop of Lexington in 2015, Bishop Stowe was invited to serve as the bishops’ liaison for CCA.
Integral to the annual gathering was the committee’s third and most recent pastoral letter — “The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories That Shape Us.” The letter was published in 2015 and is known as the “People’s Pastoral.”
The gathering’s keynote — given by Father Rausch and Dr. Ron Eller — addressed the current state of economic affairs in Appalachia, the history of the church’s involvement and thoughts on the future from.
Eller, a historian who served for 15 years as the director of the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center, is the author of several books about the Appalachian region and its history.
Father Rausch holds a master’s degree in economics, and has been involved in worker and environmental issues in the Appalachian region since 1970. He writes about such topics through the lens of Catholic social teaching.
The afternoon session featured Michael Iafrate, the primary author of the “People’s Pastoral” and Jessica Wrobleski, who served as the primary editor.
They said that Pope Francis’ highly anticipated encyclical “Laudato Si’ ” “tilled the ground for the pastoral.”
“There was an emphasis on things being connected, social and environmental, and we must look at all pieces of the puzzle,” Iafrate said.
They also discussed the importance of promulgating the pastoral, and asked CCA members to think creatively about ways it can be disseminated via print, as well as the CCA website, ccappal.org/thetellingtakesushome2015.
Read Margaret’s entire report here.
CCA’s 2017 gathering will be held in Black Mountain, North Carolina and will focus on sustainable communities.
Though the Mountains May Fall
By Catherine Bush
Reviewed by Jaculyn Hanrahan, CND
Appalachian Faith & Ecology Center
Our increasingly beloved The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us now has another voice among the emerging stories of our third Appalachian “People’s Pastoral.” Sunday, August 21, 2016 introduced the nascent play Though the Mountains May Fall by Catherine Bush, playwright in residence for the Barter Theater, in Abingdon, VA. Each year since 2000, the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights (AFPP) celebrates the richness of Appalachian culture by showcasing stories of the region and the inspiration it provides writers. This year Catherine’s submission of Though the Mountains May Fall joined the ranks as one of the six readings done at the Festival. The play is the fourth installment of Bush’s Mud Creek series.
Eight Barter actors and Director Andrew Hampton Livingston presented the reading in the smaller Barter II Stage to a full house audience. Even without any staging, but with good acting and fine casting, the piece placed us squarely in the heart of the living mosaic of injustices that engage and challenge each one of us in Central Appalachia today. Bush’s work particularly captures the “strangeness and uniqueness” which is often the Catholic reality here as church folks try to navigate the waters of the same issue laden voices expressed in the third pastoral. I was very aware as I experienced this performance that I was listening for those voices, of the marginalized within the mainstream, and I wasn’t disappointed. The pastoral itself is not mentioned explicitly in the play, but clearly Catherine Bush understands “catholic” as well as this pastoral. I’ve only seen one other play in her Mud Creek series, so I know I missed many of the allusions to those other works which must have been present in this new play. I want to make up that gap because it will enhance my appreciation of the newest piece.
The audience discussion following the reading of Though The Mountains May Fall made note of the many justice issues in the play and to what degree it was issue driven, character driven, or faith driven. Who was the actual protagonist? There was also comment about the degree to which this work is a comedy or a drama, because clearly both are present throughout the play. It is a contemporary play, taking situations right from our current global and national news. It is a Catholic play, not so much due our Catholic creedal beliefs as it is of our catholic tradition of social justice, rooted in the gospel and centuries of witness by saints and sinners. It is a catholic play because of the Pope Francis factor and the fascination he evokes in so many non-Catholics.
I’m still processing the impact of this play on me. The former English teacher in me is imagining how it would be staged. The CCA member in me is thinking of how it could be and might be shared with various audiences even in conjunction with the actual pastoral. And the Catholic woman and sister in me is challenged by the faith and vulnerability of the lead, Fr. Timothy Ryan, and wonders why it is that the priest is the lead. I can identify with the strength of the women characters, the complexity and interconnectedness of the issues in this play that surround most of us every day, and the goodness that happens, the hope that is held, when we push against the voices that try to deny what we know is true. Good job, Catherine Bush.
I certainly look forward to the full production of the play Though the Mountains May Fall. Let’s do this again.
The Catholic Committee of Appalachia’s People’s Pastoral, “The Telling Takes Us Home,” reads:
[W]e urge a politics that serves
people and Earth,
In the spirit of Pope Francis,
we are calling for a politics
of what we might call ecological mercy.
Today, Pope Francis discusses the need to show mercy to creation in his message “Show Mercy to our Common Home,” issued on this first World Day of Prayer for Creation.
In the message the Pope again urges people of faith to make an ecological examination of conscience, and then goes on to suggest that Christians add a new “work of mercy” to the traditional seven Works of Mercy:
The Christian life involves the practice of the traditional seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy. “We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative: hospitals for the sick, soup kitchens for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, schools for those to be educated, the confessional and spiritual direction for those needing counsel and forgiveness… But if we look at the works of mercy as a whole, we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces.”
Obviously “human life itself and everything it embraces” includes care for our common home. So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home.
As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (Laudato Si, 214) which “allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us” (ibid., 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires “simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” and “makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world” (ibid., 230-31).
Read the entire message, “Show Mercy to Our Common Home,” here.
Our tradition of Appalachian pastoral letters is about far more than simply the promulgation of more church documents. We believe our three pastoral letters—”This Land is Home to Me” (1975), “At Home in the Web of Life” (1995), and “The Telling Takes Us Home” (2015)—are words that are alive, expressing the life of the Spirit in our region and urging us to prophetic action. To that end, we believe the pastorals should not only be read and reflected upon but discussed among the various communities where we find ourselves.
CCA’s People’s Pastoral Committee has been working to develop a variety of discussion resources for “The Telling Takes Us Home” for different types of groups. The first is a single page set of discussion questions to introduce and discuss major themes from the pastoral. Thank you to Elizabeth Nawrocki, Beth Collins, and Jessica Wrobleski for your work on early versions of this guide, and Wheeling Jesuit University’s Appalachian Institute for using an earlier draft in a summer discussion series as a “pilot” for this important resource.
Please let us know about your experience using this resource in your community. We anticipate further revisions as we receive feedback!
More discussion resources for all of the Appalachian pastoral letters are forthcoming.
When the People’s Pastoral was first conceived, CCA members envisioned that the pastoral’s message would find expression beyond a single document. We imagined that the pastoral’s voices could potentially be lifted up in a variety of other ways, including poetry, visual art, exhibits, songs, dance, storytelling, conferences, retreats, academic papers, educational programs, rituals, and prayers.
Early in the process of the pastoral’s development, we discussed the possibility of a theatrical production with Catherine Bush, house playwright at Barter Theater in Abingdon, VA. CCA is pleased to share that Catherine’s play, Though the Mountains May Fall, inspired by the voices of the pastoral, will make its debut in a reading at the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights at Barter Theater this Sunday.
Here is the synopsis of the play:
The Ida May Combs Medical Clinic in Mud Creek, KY is now open for business– thanks to the efforts of local priest Fr. Timothy Ryan. But before Fr. Timothy can count his blessings, things in Mud Creek begin to unravel; a mysterious stomach virus sweeps the region, a civil-right’s dispute breaks out in town, and Fr. Timothy’s mentally ill brother shows up on his doorstep. As he struggles to overcome the demons of his past in order to save his friends and community, Fr. Timothy discovers that being present is sometimes the best gift one can give. The fourth installment of the Mud Creek series by Barter’s Resident Playwright.
Writing in the Lexington Herald-Leader at the end of July, Stowe criticized Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s proposed changes to the state’s Medicaid program, which include “an increase of premiums, cost-sharing charges and a lock-out period” which would create “significant barriers to obtaining coverage or seeing a doctor, much less a dentist or eye doctor.”
State budgets reveal the values of the governing administration; they should also reveal the values of the people. Disregard for the vulnerable weakens the common good. A genuine reform of health care in Kentucky should result in health care that is accessible and affordable for all, and not place more restrictions on accessing it. The mere complexity of the proposed plan will create new barriers to care precisely when the need is to continue expanding access.
And last week, Bishop John offered a series of reflections on mercy to the Conference of Major Superiors of Men at their assembly in Columbus, Ohio. The Conference is the association of the leaders of vowed men’s religious communities in the United States. As noted by Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, Stowe’s opening reflection contained many positive references to LGBT people and issues. Among his reflections, Stowe said:
“Let everything the Church says and does be seen as merciful.” I think bishops need some help to know how—and I think I am in the midst of a group who has the capacity to model this. For every blunt statement of doctrine and categorical condemnation uttered by the church, may religious men be willing to stand with the sinners and gently walk with them on the path of conversion. For every pronouncement about intrinsic evils and disordered sexuality, may religious men be ready to wipe tears and heal wounds and help to rediscover goodness and dignity. For every insensitive reaction to circumstances or perceived threats, may religious men bring the fruit of contemplation and discernment of the Spirit’s movement.
We agree with DeBernardo, who said of Stowe in a blog post:
These reflections by a relatively new bishop signal a new direction for the Church. They offer hope for people concerned with LGBT equality, but they also offer hope for the whole Church. The fact that they were spoken at a gathering of the leaders of men’s religious communities means that Stowe’s–and Pope Francis’–messsage [sic] is being spread to the “middle managers” of the church, the people who can make policy and pastoral practice changes. His words indicate that a message of tenderness is beginning to flower in our Church.
The entirety of Stowe’s opening reflection can be found here.
Our friend Jean Denton has written a reflection on this Sunday’s readings for Catholic News Service that places CCA’s prophetic mission alongside Jesus’ words from the Gospel: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Denton is well tuned to Appalachian issues, having covered CCA activities for The Catholic Virginian diocesan newspaper for some time now. Denton writes:
An inspiring, ongoing story I covered as a reporter for my diocesan newspaper was the work of the church advocating for justice in Appalachia. Over recent decades, much of that mission has been carried out at the grass roots by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, an active group of religious and laypeople living and laboring with the people, lifting a prophetic voice against such degradation as mountaintop removal, industrial pollution and myriad social problems that come with endemic poverty.
The Holy Spirit is at work among God’s faithful people there, characteristically stirring up conflict. Characteristically?
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus asks, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth?”
On the contrary, he states, he intends to set the earth on fire, bringing division and, yes, that can mean conflict even among our brothers and sisters in Christ.
A stark example is the struggle for justice in Appalachia, alive with Christ’s Spirit as the members of the church grapple with their differences of opinion on environmental issues.
Members of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia last year applauded Pope Francis’ encyclical on the global threat of climate change. The pope’s words appeared to speak directly to conditions in Appalachia as he described the critical depletion of the earth’s natural resources and its particular impact on the poor.
But the response of some local dioceses differed from the committee’s. They disagreed on the environmental and economic impact some of the document’s proposals would have on the region as well as on how to address the problems it raised. Nevertheless, the committee encouraged all the bishops of Appalachia to engage the church in the concerns and conflicts raised by “Laudato Si’,” even though the conversation may be contentious.
Read the entire reflection here. Thank you, Jean, for your reporting, your reflections, and your friendship!
The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us, CCA’s 2015 “People’s Pastoral,” is featured in the new issue of NETWORK Connection, the quarterly publication of NETWORK Lobby and Nuns on the Bus.
In particular, NETWORK highlights the “first step” of CCA’s pastoral letters: listening. It is this first step of listening to ordinary people that shapes NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus” tours. The article also makes mention of last year’s bus tour which included a stop in Wheeling, West Virginia, where the sisters met with House of Hagar Catholic Worker, Grow Ohio Valley, and the Wheeling Jesuit University community.
About the Pastoral, NETWORK says:
In writing the People’s Pastoral, the CCA heard stories from residents of mountain communities, working people, people who are homeless, women, youth, people of color, native people, women religious, LGBTQ people, activists, people who have left the church, and more. While the People’s Pastoral is a prophetic call toward greater justice, peace, and wholeness for Appalachia, it is also a model for our country to listen and learn from one another and envision our future together.
Read the entire article here (PDF).