Catholic Committee of Appalachia Asks Appalachia’s Bishops to Vigorously Support and Apply Pope’s Ecological Encyclical

Grassroots movement with 45-years of work in the region demands more of bishops than shown thus far

Special to the Appalachian Chronicle

SPENCER, W.Va. – The Catholic Committee of Appalachia, a grassroots Catholic social justice organization based here, has issued a statement to the bishop of West Virginia as well as the other bishops of the Appalachian region asking them to speak strongly on environmental justice matters in response to Pope Francis’ recent ecological encyclical.

Appalachia Source: Appalachian Regional Commission
Appalachia
Source: Appalachian Regional Commission

The statement was initially conceived in response to the public comments of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield regarding the encyclical, titled Laudato Si’, which CCA found concerning. In a diocesan statement and numerous media interviews, Bransfield expressed his views on how the document would apply in his diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which includes all of West Virginia. The bishop’s comments appeared to downplay the pope’s strong message of economic change and the need to shift rapidly to alternative energy sources, changes which Bransfield claimed are “not financially feasible in West Virginia.”

The organization calls on the 26 bishops of the region to speak and act in the bold spirit of Pope Francis’ encyclical. The statement can be read here: CCA Statement to Appalachian Bishops.

The two letters, which were signed by CCA Coordinator Jeannie Kirkhope, follow:

Letter to Bransfield
Dear Bishop Bransfield,

Greetings in the Lord!

Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) writes to you as an ally in the struggle for justice in our region. We thank you for your leadership as you issue statement after statement expressing sensitivity to the situation of the poor and marginalized in West Virginia and in our world. We also commend you and thank you for highlighting Pope Francis’ new ecological encyclical, Laudato Si’, in the media as it relates to the issues of poverty and ecological destruction in West Virginia. No other bishop in CCA’s network is issuing teachings or correlating the encyclical with distinctly Appalachian concerns as you have done.

As you know, one of our members, Michael Iafrate, put forth independent criticisms of your media comments in an article published in the July 1stt online edition of National Catholic Reporter. We want to express our concerns over those same comments which suggested that part of the encyclical is not applicable in our state right now. We feel quite the opposite is true. CCA has long held that Appalachia is “ground zero,” unique as a region where social, environmental and economic issues all coalesce to form a microcosm of the wider world. As the heart of Appalachia, West Virginia is actually the perfect place to start responding to each and every urgent challenge set forth by Laudato Si’, especially that of stepping away from fossil fuels. West Virginia has an incomparable ability to offer countless ways in which our national and international communities can address the concerns we face as a planet.

In light of this, following the release of Mr. Iafrate’s article, we were pleased your spokesman, Bryan Minor, initiated an informal, unofficial conversation with several of us in an online forum on CCA’s Facebook group page. This gave us hope that CCA might be able to dialogue with you directly and work together to respond to the pope’s message, a message that echoes many of the concerns of the first two Appalachian pastoral letters which animate our work as CCA. This correspondence, then, is also to extend that invitation, and call on you and your Appalachian brother bishops to speak boldly and act publically with us in response to the key imperatives of the encyclical that correlate most closely with our work for justice in the mountains as outlined on the following pages.

We are experiencing a beautiful, hopeful moment in the church. Catholics all over the region are thinking about Laudato Si’ which presents a wonderful opportunity for CCA and the bishops within Appalachia to reconnect and work together again. There is so much potential for different sectors of the church to do what they do best and to learn from each other in dialogue without fear.

We look forward to your further reflections on Laudato Si’, and on the two pastoral letters of your Appalachian predecessors, as they relate to the state of West Virginia. It is exciting to imagine discovering together more concrete steps toward local and regional responses to them. We pray for the Spirit’s wisdom in your words and in your continued work for God’s People.

Letters to other Appalachian bishops
Dear Bishop

Greetings in the Lord!

Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) writes to you as an ally in the struggle for justice in our region. We are experiencing a beautiful, hopeful moment in the church. Catholics from all over are thinking about the Holy Father’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, which presents a wonderful opportunity for CCA and bishops of the region to reconnect and work together again.

CCA has long held that Appalachia is “ground zero,” unique as a region where social, environmental and economic issues all coalesce to form a microcosm of the wider world. Our region has an incomparable ability to offer countless ways in which our national and international communities can address the concerns we face as a planet. Therefore, we feel Appalachia is the perfect place to start responding to the challenges set forth by Laudato Si’.

This correspondence, then, is to extend an invitation to dialogue and to call on you and your Appalachian brother bishops to speak boldly and act publically with us in response to the key imperatives of the encyclical that correlate most closely with our work for justice in the mountains as outlined on the following pages.

There is so much potential for different sectors of the church to do what they do best and to learn from each other in dialogue without fear. We look forward to your reflections on Pope Francis’ message, and on the two pastoral letters of your Appalachian predecessors. It is exciting to imagine discovering together more concrete steps toward local and regional responses to them. We pray for the Spirit’s wisdom in your words and in your continued work for God’s People.

About the Catholic Committee of Appalachia
Since 1970, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has existed to serve Appalachia, her poor and the entire web of creation. Mountaintop removal, labor, private prison development, sustainable lifestyles and communities, poverty, health, clean water, racism and climate change are among those issues which CCA has addressed. CCA was responsible for the organization and promulgation of two groundbreaking pastoral letters of the Catholic Bishops of Appalachia, “This Land is Home to Me” (1975) and “At Home in the Web of Life” (1995).

© The Catholic Committee of Appalachia, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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8 comments

  1. Well nice to read! that the Pope & most his ‘ children ‘ are learning. That the big thing in the sky ( Sun ) provides energy,lol. If only this? would have been an subject. Over the century. As apposed to what lies in the trousers of innocent children. 😉

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