Category Archives: Faith

Asheville Catholic Vicariate Issues Statement in Support of Immigrants

‘We Are Strangers No Longer’ asserts that Gospel requires that immigrants be welcomed

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The Asheville Vicariate Council of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte has issued a Pastoral Statement in support of immigrants. The document, “We Are Strangers No Longer,” follows below. (El Consejo del Vicariato de Asheville de la Diócesis Católica de Charlotte ha emitido una Declaración Pastoral en apoyo de los inmigrantes abajo).

In our first pastoral statement over eleven years ago, WELCOMING THE STRANGER, we invited our Catholic community to welcome the newest immigrants to our Asheville area. At that time we were responding to widespread panic within the immigrant community when a number of people were detained and deported. We joined with the bishops of our country in calling for a comprehensive reform of a broken immigration system. In the ensuing eleven years, our Catholic community generously welcomed our newest brothers and sisters.  Today, immigrants are no longer strangers, but an essential part of our faith communities. Unfortunately, the broken immigration system of eleven years ago has all but collapsed. Today, the conditions faced by immigrants have considerably worsened.

Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him . . . .

Our immigrant brothers and sisters have called on us to respond once more to the panic in which they and their children live. They never know when their families will be torn apart. Children, many of whom are citizens of our country, live in constant fear that their parents may never return home from work. Parents worry that their children, who have received protection under the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), may be permanently separated from their families and deported.  The threat against families is real. The fear is intolerable. After eleven years of failed attempts to reform our laws concerning immigration, families and children are still living in fear.

This situation is happening to our immigrant brothers and sisters here and now. They are our parishioners and have shared with us their rich traditions of faith and family. They make a positive contribution to the life of the Church, the community and the economy. In response to the Executive Order on Refugees this past January, 2017, the president and vice-president of the national conference of Catholic bishops stated:

The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself. Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity. Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him . . . . Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but rather to proclaim Christ alive in the world today. In the very moment a family abandons their home under threat of death, Jesus is present.  And He says to each of us, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

(Joint Statement, USCCB, 30 January 2017)

And as Pope Francis continually reminds the Church, “the face of each person bears the mark of the face of Christ!”  And he adds:

“Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. ”

(Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 2014)

Through the centuries, people have looked to the Church as a sanctuary where people may turn for help and protection in time of need. As immigrants today look to us for spiritual support in this time of crisis for their families, we are united in calling on our Catholic community and all people of good will to stand with immigrants and their children. We invite Catholic Charities and our area Catholic schools and Faith Formation programs to be especially mindful of the needs of children who are living in fear. We encourage our parishes to respond with generosity to immigrants especially those have been detained and separated from their children and loved ones. And we commit ourselves as Catholic leaders to continue to work and pray for the comprehensive reform of the immigration laws that will keep families united and allow all immigrants to know their dignity as children of God. May our Church always be a sanctuary where no one is a stranger!

Immigrants are great.jpg

Asheville Vicariate Council

Very Rev. Wilbur N. Thomas, Vicar Forane, Rector/Pastor

Basilica of St. Lawrence, Asheville

Rev. C. Morris Boyd, Parochial Vicar

Basilica of St. Lawrence, Asheville

Rev. Patrick Cahill, Pastor

St. Eugene Church, Asheville

Mr. Juan Antonio Garcia, Coordinator

Asheville Vicariate Hispanic Ministry

Mr. Nicholas Haskell, Coordinator

Poverty & Justice Education, Diocese of Charlotte

Rev. Douglas May, Maryknoll Missioner

In-Residence, St. Eugene Church, Asheville

Rev. Shawn O’Neal, Pastor

Sacred Heart Church, Brevard

Rev. John Pagel, Priest-at-Large to Hispanic Community

Hendersonville

Rev. Roberto Perez, O.F.M. Cap., Parochial Vicar

Immaculate Conception, Hendersonville

Mr. Robert Phillips, Representative, Catholic Charities-Western Office

Diocese of Charlotte, Asheville

Rev. Adrian Porras, Pastor

St. Barnabas Church, Arden

Rev. Martin Schratz, O.F.M. Cap., Pastor

Immaculate Conception, Hendersonville  

Sr. Peggy Verstege, R.S.M., Hispanic Ministry

Sacred Heart Church, Burnsville

Sr. Maria Goretti Weldon, R.S.M., Director of Mission and Values

Sisters of Mercy Services Corporation, Asheville

Rev. Fred Werth, Pastor

St. Andrew Church, Mars Hill

Rev. Dr. Michael Zboyovski, Deacon

St. Eugene Church, Asheville

 

Ya No Somos Extranjeros:

Declaración Pastoral del Consejo del Vicariato de Asheville de la Diócesis de Charlotte, 2017

En nuestra primera declaración hace once años, ACOGIENDO AL FORASTERO ENTRE NOSOTROS, invitamos a nuestra comunidad Católica a dar la bienvenida a los nuevos inmigrantes de Asheville.  En aquella época estábamos respondiendo a un pánico universal de la comunidad inmigrante en lo cual muchos estaban detenidos y deportados.  Al mismo tiempo, nos juntamos con los obispos católicos de nuestro país llamando por una reforma completa del sistema quebrantado de inmigración.  En los once años después, nuestra comunidad católica generosamente acogió a los nuevos hermanos y hermanas.  Hoy en día, los inmigrantes ya no son extranjeros, pero forman una parte esencial de nuestras comunidades de fe.  Desafortunadamente, el sistema quebrantado de inmigración de once años atrás ya casi colapsó.  Ahora, la situación de los inmigrantes está mucho peor.

Nuestros hermanas y hermanos inmigrantes nos pidieron a responder una vez más al pánico en lo cual viven ellos y sus hijos.  No saben cuando sus familias van a ser destrozados.  Los niños, muchos que son ciudadanos viven en el miedo que sus padres van a regresar a casa después del trabajo.  Los padres están preocupados que sus hijos, que tiene protección por medio del programa de DACA (Acción Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia), van a ser separados permanentemente de sus familias y deportados.  La amenaza contra familias es real.  El miedo es intolerable.  Después de once años de intentos fracasados de reformar nuestras leyes de inmigración, familias y sus hijos sigen viviendo en miedo.

Nuestros hermanas y hermanos inmigrantes están pasando esta situación aquí y ahora.  Ellos son nuestros filigreses y nos han compartido sus valiosas tradiciones de fe y familia.  Hacen una contribución positiva a la vida de la Iglesia, la comunidad y la economía.  Respondiendo a la Orden Ejecutiva de enero de 2017, el presidente y el vice-presidente de la conferencia nacional de obispos católicos declararon:

El Señor Jesús huyó de la tiranía de Herodes, fue falsamente acusado y luego abandonado por sus amigos. No tenía dónde reclinar su cabeza (Lc 9:58). Acoger al extranjero y a los que están huyendo no es una opción entre muchas en la vida cristiana. Es la forma misma del cristianismo en sí. Nuestras acciones deben hacer que la gente recuerde a Jesús. Las acciones de nuestro gobierno deben hacer que la gente recuerde la humanidad básica. Cuando nuestros hermanos y hermanas sufran rechazo y abandono, nosotros elevaremos nuestra voz en su favor. Los acogeremos y los recibiremos. Ellos son Jesús, y la Iglesia no se apartará de Él . . . . Nuestro deseo no es entrar en el terreno político, sino anunciar a Cristo vivo en el mundo de hoy. En el momento mismo en que una familia abandona su hogar bajo amenaza de muerte, Jesús está presente. Y Él nos dice a cada uno de nosotros: “todo lo que hicieron por uno de estos mis hermanos más pequeños, lo hicieron por mí” (Mt 25:40).

Y como el Papa Francisco siempre dice a la Iglesia, “en el rostro de cada persona está impreso el rostro de Cristo.”  Y el papa añade:

Emigrantes y refugiados no son peones sobre el tablero de la humanidad.

(Mensaje Para La Jornada Mundial Del Emigrante Y Del Refugiado 2014)

Através de los siglos, la gente ha visto a la Iglesia como santuario donde busquen ayuda y protección en tiempos difíciles.  Pues, como los inmigrantes de hoy nos piden apoyo espiritual en estos tiempos difíciles para sus familias, estamos unidos en llamando a nuestra comunidad católica y a todo el pueblo de buena voluntad a mantenerse a lado de los inmigrantes y sus hijos.  Invitamos a Catholic Charities y las escuelas católicas de nuestra área y los programas de catequesis a tener en cuenta las necesidades de los niños que viven en el miedo.  Al mismo tiempo, animamos a nuestras parroquias a responder con generosidad a los inmigrantes especialmente a los que han sido detenidos y separados de sus niños y seres queridos.  Y nos comprometemos a luchar y rezar por la reforma completa de las leyes de inmigración para mantener familias unidas y permitir que todos los inmigrantes realicen su dignidad como Hijos de Dios.  ¡Qué nuestra Iglesia sea siempre un santuario en donde nadie es extranjero!

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Solving the North Korea Problem

No Nukes for anyone

By Michael M. Barrick

nrnonukes (1)In the early 1980s, I had a t-shirt that exclaimed, “No Nukes!” It caused more than one confrontation, which of course was my intent. The reason I was so confrontational was because I considered escalation of nuclear weaponry insane. President Reagan, in particular, seemed to be a bit trigger-happy.

He was not the first though. I have known since I had to throw by butt under my desk or up against a wall at school in 1962 that nuclear weapons could make all of mankind extinct. As a first grader, I was not old enough to grasp the “All of mankind” concept; however, television and magazine images of exploding mushroom clouds I did understand – it meant I would be vaporized – extinguished!

My awareness of all of this began with the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was enlightening to a six-year-old. The president was serious, our parents more so with each passing day. The nuns at St. Mary’s in Clarksburg, W.Va. were the ones having us diving under the desks. We followed that by saying the rosary and going to confession quite regularly. At six, I was a handful, but I really didn’t have much to confess. In hindsight, I’d like to say, “Thanks for messing with my head.”

Speaking of which, during the time I was wearing my “No Nukes!” t-shirt, President Reagan mused about eliminating nuclear weapons from the planet. In a Time magazine interview in 1984, he revealed, “I just happen to believe that we cannot go into another generation with the world living under the threat of those weapons and knowing that some madman can push the button some place.” He added, “My hope has been, and my dream, that we can get the Soviet Union to join us in starting verifiable reductions of the weapons. Once you start down that road, they’ve got to see how much better off we would both be if we got rid of them entirely.”

No Nukes Peace hand

That interview occurred the same year our second child was born. We are now grandparents of an eight-year-old. She is the second generation since that interview to live with the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation. This lack of leadership simply won’t do. And, before we can lead, we have to get over our sense of moral superiority – which is clearly the reason we think we should have nuclear weapons and have the right to tell others they cannot. The United States would never submit to such dictates from a foreign power (OK, there is that Trump/Russia “thing,” but let’s just let it play out for now).

Additionally, from the perspective of those who don’t live between the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the borders with Canada and Mexico, the United States is, at best, hypocritical to demand that other nations not develop nuclear weapons programs. That is true even when we are dealing with a nation that threatens us almost daily, as does North Korea. After all, we are the only nation to ever use them in war – twice.

Put frankly, the United States lacks the moral authority to demand that any nation adhere to our wishes – about nuclear weapons or anything.

So now, we find ourselves in a helpless diplomatic situation with North Korea. We can’t bend them to our will. If we choose war to do so, we will witness human, cultural and environmental destruction that few of us alive today have ever seen our nation engaged in.

So, what to do? Resurrect the vision of Ronald Reagan – and much of humanity since the end of World War II: A nuclear weapons-free world. Does such a vision seem impossible? Yes – until you consider the alternative. All weapons of war are always used. As I’ve written before, waging peace is much more difficult than waging war. It requires more patience, creative thinking, and a humble spirit. Humility is not exactly our nation’s strongest attribute. It is even less so under Donald Trump. So, the Anti-Nuke movement must re-originate from our neighborhoods and our towns.

pease 1

The peace sign was first used in 1958 by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

As a child, in fact, I was taught that peace was to begin with me – a lesson I learned at home, my Catholic parish and Catholic school. Indeed, David Haas, a singer-songwriter that has written hundreds of songs that are used in Mass of Catholic parishes in the United States and beyond, challenges nations to wage peace in his song, “Enter God’s House.” The lyrics begin, “All you nations, all who seek peace: / leave your arms and weapons behind. / Come and climb the mountain of God. / Enter God’s house!”

The United States must heed this call for two reasons. First, as the only nation to use atomic / nuclear weapons, our nation is obligated to lead the effort to eliminate them. Secondly, this nation is run by a political party that claims to be the party of God. Of course, that’s cowpatties, but they certainly have a chance to prove it.

All they – and many hawkish Democrats, too – have to remember is: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:19).

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017. Photo by Eddie Kopp on Unsplash 

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‘Love is not enough’

Encountering a disturbing view of the Christian faith

By Art Sherwood

Art Sherwood primary

Art Sherwood

PATTERSON, N.C. – Last week was a wonderful week, celebrating the 241st birthday of the United States. It is always a good time to ponder enduring statements from our founders, such as “When in the course of human events … ” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

But as John Adams said, it is not just a time for reflection about freedom and liberty; it is also a time for celebration! So, like lots of folk, we celebrated our nation’s birthday with family, as our daughter visited with three of our grandchildren. Enjoying the beautiful mountains of North Carolina under clear, blue skies included an adventurous trip to Tweetsie Railroad.

That is when our celebration was momentarily interrupted and again left me pondering. This time, it was about something as precious to me as my family and our nation – my Christian faith. As I was standing in line so the children could get their pictures taken with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I struck up a conversation with another grandparent doing what I was doing. After a bit, she noticed the logo on the front of my shirt – “The Christian Left” – and asked me what it was about. I explained that it was a counterforce to the Christian right, who abdicated any claim to Christianity in the last election. I then showed her the back of the shirt, which says, “Love Thy Neighbor.” It goes on to list various groups of people, such as “LGBT Neighbor,” “Imprisoned Neighbor,” “Hindu Neighbor,” and so forth. She then responded, “Love is not enough,” and entered into a rant about how if we don’t do something we will become like them. She protested that she was just an old fashioned Bible-believing woman. About that time, the line opened up and we ended our conversation at that point.

I, too, am an old fashioned, Bible-believing person, which is why I found her response so disturbing.

Love is enough. It is more than enough, it is everything. At least, that’s what it sounds like Jesus said in an exchange recorded in the Gospel of Mark (12: 28-34 NIV). Jesus was asked “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

That’s it, Jesus says. Love. It is all that is required, and it requires all from us. It is required of all of us who claim the name of Christ.

The account continues, “Well said teacher. … You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

It’s also noteworthy how Jesus responded and how this exchange concluded: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”

I however, continue to ask questions – of those who adhere to a very disturbing view of the Christian faith. Indeed, the brief encounter served to validate the point made by my friend Michael Barrick to me last week, when he said that in North Carolina our political divide is a proxy war of theologies – the theology of fear which breeds hate or the theology of hope which is the path to the love of which Jesus speaks. The former is exemplified by the Rev. Franklin Graham; the latter by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II.

Sherwood faith jacob meyer photo

As a lifelong Sunday School attendee in Baptist churches large and small from Texas to Washington, D.C., I am blown away that someone can say they are Bible-believing Christians on the one hand and say love is not enough on the other. I don’t see how they can ignore the entire New Testament that is all about love. Sadly, the tactics of fear used by so-called Christian politicians and their powerful pastor allies is working. It makes me question: What happened to trust in God? What happened to turn your cares to Jesus?

What happened is a terrible failure of teaching by our spiritual leaders who have abdicated their job to lead us to the love of God. This too seems to be clearly addressed in scripture: “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock” (Ezekiel 34: 2b-3).

Based on my short conversation in a line at Tweetsie Railroad – and decades of service to Baptist churches and 10 years (1979 – 1989) as a trustee at Southwestern Theological Seminary – I would have to agree with what we read in Ezekiel. The shepherds are attending to their gods of power, money and sex instead of their flocks.

So, the poor and vulnerable are hurt the most, even though Jesus demonstrated preferential concern for them. I can’t quite figure out what’s being taught in Sunday School these days, but Michael and I have concluded that we are, indeed, witnessing a religious proxy war being played out in the North Carolina General Assembly. At the moment, the “Love is not enough” faction is winning.

We can counter that. Take a moment to listen to “We Should Only Have Time For Love” by Claire Lynch. It’s worth a listen. Its message is timeless. And complete. We should only have time for love for one simple reason – love is enough. But we won’t know that until we try it. So it is up to us to keep proving it.

© Art Sherwood, 2017. Photo by Jacob Meyer.

Soul Speak

A poem at Pentecost

By Michael M. Barrick

Cross by Aaron Burden

Credit: Aaron Burden

For Christians that follow a liturgical calendar, Pentecost is a commemoration of the beginning of the church, as read about in Acts 2: 1-11.  This poem, while originating from a long, ongoing dialogue about the Incarnation with a dear friend who is a Catholic priest, is certainly not intended only for the “religious.” It is my experience, in having friends of every faith or no faith, that there is something intangible that happens among friends and family that mystically connects us. This is one such expression of that phenomenon.

Soul Speak.
It is the language of the Incarnation.
To the rationalist, it is unintelligible; to the mystic, the native tongue.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that made and keeps me as one
with Sarah.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that prompts my confessor
to call or visit at the most unpredictable – but perfect – times.

Soul Speak.
It is the source of the compassion that compelled me
to apologize to Nan as her son – my friend – was dying.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that overwhelms me with tears
during morning prayers or while walking in the woods.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that compels me to approach strangers
with a smile.

Soul Speak.
It is the language of family and friends,
for those despairing and despondent.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that ignites the spirit of peace
through the arts.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that calls us to love all of humanity
with mercy, grace, and hope.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that compelled John to leap
in Elizabeth’s womb upon the greeting from Mary.

Soul Speak.
It is the language
of the Master of my heart.

© Michael Barrick, 2015 -17.

Applying Scripture in Our Communities

It may not mean what you think

By Alan M. Eddington and Michael M. Barrick

Biblee

Biblical literalists wishing to impose their will upon the rest of Americans are faced with a conundrum – the words that are in the Bible.

So, before you start waving the Christian flag and demand that we become a “Christian nation,” consider this passage from Acts 2: 42-45:

They devoted themselves
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone,
and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need.

How many U.S. Christians do you know who are willing to live communally? How many are willing to sell their stuff and divide the proceeds to those most in need?

Exactly. Applying scripture in our communities may not mean what you think.

So, think critically. Think for yourself.

Discover your soul and embrace its majesty. Then, use your critical thinking to guide your heart to a better world, a better neighbor, and a better you.

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017. The Appalachian Chronicle is a sister publication of The Lenoir Voice.

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Quit Peddling Religion and do Something Useful

Enough about the apocalypse; help prevent it

By Michael M. Barrick

LENOIR, N.C. – Just after 10 yesterday morning I dispatched – politely – a Jehovah’s Witness fanatic from my front doorstep.

I did not run her off because she’s a Jehovah’s Witness; I ran her off because she was fear-mongering. I stepped outside and she handed me a brochure, saying, “You know, this is something that is on people’s minds these days – the return of Jesus.” I handed it back to her and said, “Save this and give it to someone that is interested.” She said “Thank you” and left.

I will not waste my time talking to fanatics about religion – or anything for that matter. I don’t like strangers coming unannounced to my door. It’s rude. Paul wrote that “Love is not rude” (look it up; hint: it’s in the “love” chapter), yet it’s generally agreed upon that he was a real pain in the neck.

I also saw the word “prosperity” on the handout. Having spent a decade researching and writing tens of thousands of words about the totally false “name-it-claim-it, health-and-wealth, prosperity gospel,” I knew immediately I was dealing with a hopelessly deluded person.

Religous tract ben-white-226176

I also do not like people using the threat of an impending apocalypse to scare me into “finding Jesus.” It’s cynical. It’s certainly not rooted in a faith of hope. It is also not rooted in a religion of action, but rather fatalism.

Sadly, though, it is effective.

Not with me. First, because of experience. Second, because I believe in logic. What she was peddling is paradoxical. Why, if you believe the return of Jesus is imminent, would you also – and in particular your pastor – be concerned about prosperity? Illogical as it is, obviously millions fall for it.

So, rather than harassing people enjoying a quiet cup of coffee, those of you peddling your religion door-to-door could instead live your faith. Maybe if you do, so many frightening things wouldn’t be happening. “Thy Kingdom come” would happen if people bothering me and my neighbors would instead simply live according to their precepts. Below is one that is quite timely.

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

So, go see what you can do to protect our immigrant friends. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll find Jesus on my own.

Finding Jesus on my own lukas-budimaier-49074

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017.  The Lenoir Voice is a sister publication of the Appalachian Chronicle.

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NC Mountain Catholics Slam Bishop and Attitudes of Priests

NC Chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia says priests and bishops should “ … imitate more strongly the example of Jesus …”

Courtesy Article

priests

CHEROKEE, N.C. – The North Carolina Chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) has issued a statement of concern regarding the adequacy of local church leadership. Titled “Statement of Concern on Clericalism from Appalachian Catholics in the Smoky Mountain Region,” the statement identifies clericalism – the overemphasis of the power of the priesthood and hierarchy – as a pervasive problem in the region and in the Roman Catholic Church as a whole.

The central office of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia is based in Spencer, W.Va.

The statement is based on negative experiences of lay Catholics in the region in their interactions with parish priests, including inadequate pastoral care of the dying and demeaning attitudes toward Catholics from diverse local cultures. The Chapter opted to share these concerns with the media after more than two years of attempts to address the issues with the bishop of the Charlotte Diocese, who the chapter says has been unwilling to meet with the people.

The Chapter statement calls on the region’s bishops to acknowledge these problems and engage in dialogue with the people to work toward creative solutions, and offers prayers for a “change of hearts, minds, and pastoral practice,” that the region’s priests and bishops “would imitate more strongly the example of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.” The statement can be read in its entirety below or at http://ccappal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/CCA-NCStatement-on-Clericalism.pdf.

Catholic Committee of Appalachia North Carolina State Chapter

Statement of Concern on Clericalism from Appalachian Catholics in the Smokey Mountain Region
To evoke the Holy Faithful People of God is to evoke the objective we are invited to look towards and reflect upon… A father cannot conceive of himself without his children… A pastor
cannot conceive of himself without a flock, whom he is called upon to serve. The pastor is the pastor of a people, and the people need him within…. (Pope Francis, “Letter to Pontifical Commission for Latin America” (March 19, 2016)

Pope Francis tells us that in order to meet the spiritual needs of the community, the people need their pastor “within” that community. While many priests are wonderful shepherds for their people, our experience reveals that this is not always the case, and our connection with other Catholics in the Appalachian region indicates that our experience points to a much larger problem.

pope-francis-2

Many Catholics in the central and southern Appalachian region feel they are talking to the wind. Their priests, especially the younger ones, do not listen to them. Their bishops do not listen to some of the priests or the people, and many of them seem not to be listening to Pope Francis. We realize the pressures on our clergy caused by the shortage of priests and the increasing spiritual needs of the people, but we feel there are pressing issues that need to be addressed in the short term.

There are flagrant examples of some of the clergy failing to care for their people and failing to see the suffering imposed on them, not only in the liturgy, but in the wider sacramental life of the church and in outreach to the community. A lack of responsibility is evident, even with regard to pastoral care of the dying. In one parish in our region, this happened at least four times in less than two years and two parishioners died without the sacraments. Likewise, funerals have not been scheduled in a timely manner, not allowing adequate input from the family of the deceased in the funeral arrangements. To date there has been no apology or acknowledgement, or even a response from the bishop in the diocese where this occurred.

Many of our younger priests insist upon imposing a uniform Roman culture while ignoring the rich diversity of Appalachian, Latino/a, and Cherokee cultures. We feel this is contrary to the examples of Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. One bishop with a sizable Native American population in his diocese has failed to respond to the concerns of parishioners about actions of the priest which have offended Native people and their friends.

eucharist

Again, many of the younger priests, particularly those fresh out of seminary, have an arrogant, self-righteous and condescending attitude. These “restorationists” seem to be more intent on taking the church back to pre-Vatican II days rather than minister to the people. They seem to be steeped in doctrine and theology, but are unwilling to participate in ecumenical activities, and are lacking in compassion, love and mercy. They are doing the job of the theologian, but not the job of the pastor. This is directly opposed to what Pope Francis and Vatican II are teaching us. Many seem to have the attitude that the Second Vatican Council never happened, taking the church back in time while ignoring the teachings of Pope Francis that have brought a vibrant new energy to the church, reviving the Church’s relevancy for many Catholics.

Many longtime Catholics who recall the days before Vatican II, and who have been faithful to the church over the years, feel they are being treated like children by priests in their thirties. As a result, they are leaving their parishes in search of meaningful liturgies. In rural areas, this is hard to do, given the distances involved in traveling to other parishes. Some Catholics are going to Protestant churches, some seeking alternative intentional communities, and others not attending church at all. This has caused a great sadness on the part of many people who, for many years, were part of parish communities now fractured by clerical ambivalence.

We recognize that we are blessed with some very good priests who give a lot to the people and who minister in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. It is not our intention to vilify the clergy as a whole, but to raise a prophetic voice in the spirit of love for the church in order to address some of the problems we encounter. Better communication and acknowledgement of issues raised by the people would go a long way in addressing the feeling of alienation that many parishioners experience. Addressing structural issues like the priest shortage necessarily take a long time, but some long-standing problems are able to be addressed more immediately, and it is past time to deal with them. Some of these problems, especially those related to the pastoral care of the sick and the dying, could be addressed creatively, for example, by empowering the laity to anoint the sick. As Catholic writer Matthew Kelly has stated, “God never goes back; he always moves forward. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden. God could have redeemed them and sent them back to the garden, but he didn’t, for two reasons: God always wants our future to be bigger than our past, and God always moves forward” (Matthew Kelly, “Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose,” Beacon Publishing, 23).

We pray for our priests and bishops here in North Carolina, throughout Appalachia, and indeed throughout the world, as the issue of clericalism affects the church globally. We pray for a change of hearts, minds, and pastoral practice among our clergy, that they would imitate more strongly the example of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.

About the North Carolina chapter of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia

As a network of Catholics committed to practicing the reforms of Vatican II in the region, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has nurtured region-wide relationships of engaged laity working to create a church of the people. These relationships help us to see that the local concerns expressed by our North Carolina State Chapter are in fact shared by Catholics in many dioceses throughout the Appalachian region. The Catholic Committee of Appalachia Board of Directors endorses this statement and joins our N.C. State Chapter in asking bishops throughout the region to respond in a pastoral manner to address the concerns raised herein.

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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 has taken responsibility for the organization and ongoing 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). CCA released a third pastoral letter, “The Telling Takes Us Home,” in 2015. Learn more about the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. Complimentary copies of the pastoral letters are available from The Lenoir Voice.

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West Virginia Catholic Diocese Challenged to Reject Coal’s ‘Dirty Money’

The Diocese often remains silent, failing to promote its own teachings on justice and the environment

By Michael J. Iafrate

WHEELING, W.Va.  – During this presidential campaign, a light is being shined on the way corporate and other wealthy donors influence the political process. We have woken up to the fact that money corrupts politics. During this month of the sixth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch disaster, it is important, too, to see the corrupting influence of coal money on our churches.

Michael J Iafrate

Michael J. Iafrate

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael Bransfield have been admirably engaged in the work of charity in the state of West Virginia. Yet, they have been, on so many occasions, disappointingly reluctant to speak truthfully about one of the major causes of poverty and ecological wreckage in the region: the coal industry.

For example, the takeaway from the Bishop’s pastoral letter on mine safety, issued after Upper Big Branch, was that the tragedy “raises concerns.” But the coal industry itself says that such accidents “raise concerns.” The death of so many human beings at the hands of a systemically negligent industry should do more than “raise concerns.”

Whether faced with the coal industry’s repeated attempts to cheat retired miners out of their pensions and health care packages or the ongoing devastating stories from communities affected by mountaintop removal mining, the Diocese often remains silent, failing to promote its own teachings on justice and the environment. Even after the release of Pope Francis’ powerful ecological encyclical Laudato Si’, Bransfield downplayed its message for West Virginia, promoting instead the myth of “clean coal.” And the Diocese has yet to make any comments about the dangers of fracking which increasingly affects people in West Virginia. Why is this?

People of faith in Appalachia often suspect that dirty money from the fossil fuel industries compromises the church’s prophetic voice. Pope Francis has spoken about the corrupting influence of “dirty money,” saying, “I think of some benefactors of the Church, who come with an offer for the Church and their offer is the fruit of the blood of people who have been exploited, enslaved with work which was under-payed. I will tell these people to please take back their cheques. The People of God don’t need their dirty money but hearts that are open to the mercy of God.”

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A mountaintop removal site Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

We must ask about the relevance of Francis’ words for the church in West Virginia, as it in fact has financial ties to the coal industry. Diocesan officials have stated publicly that the church draws money from unspecified “fossil fuel investments,” but will not disclose any further details about these investments or about its endowment in general, and one of the four lay members of Bransfield’s finance council is a former lobbyist for the National Coal Association. In 2008, according to multiple sources, Bransfield gave the green light to Sacred Heart Parish School in Williamson, W.Va. to accept charitable gifts from former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, including the funding of a brand-new gymnasium for the school, brand new sports equipment, and full scholarships for 12 students for their six-year education.

One would think that after Upper Big Branch the church might be more reluctant to accept any more dirty money from coal barons. Yet, Catholic Charities of West Virginia opened a new facility in Greenbrier County in 2013 funded by a donation from mine owner Jim Justice, whose mines have been cited for hundreds of labor, safety, and environmental violations and for failure to pay various debts and taxes.

People like Justice and Blankenship give monetary gifts to the church to improve their community standing. For precisely this reason, Blankenship’s charitable activity was cited in over one hundred letters to U.S. District Judge Irene Berger asking for more leniency in the lead-up to his sentencing.

Despite its continued economic decline, Big Coal wants a return on their investment in the church. What kind of return are they getting? A diocesan spokesperson told me that the church opposes the abuses of the fossil fuel industries, such as mountaintop removal and the abuse of workers, but that it does so “quietly” because “banging a drum” about it would “not be prudent.” But what is the value of opposition that is not made public?

Such responses suggest that the Diocese is very concerned about how the church’s social justice teachings would be received by powerful industries in West Virginia if we were to preach them strongly and in public. When church leaders consistently accept money from coal barons, the “prudent” approach muzzles any social justice teaching the church might offer in defense of workers or of Earth’s ecological integrity.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael Bransfield have … have been, on so many occasions, disappointingly reluctant to speak truthfully about one of the major causes of poverty and ecological wreckage in the region: the coal industry.”– Michael J. Iafrate

Many West Virginia Catholics would like to see their leaders boldly choose the side of justice and to “let justice speak loudly,” as the Appalachian Catholic bishops put it in their 1975 pastoral letter “This Land is Home to Me.” We do not expect the church to call for an immediate end of the coal industry, even as we transition to more diverse, life-giving economies. But we insist that the church must do better at denouncing—without ambiguity—this industry’s abuses.

Specifically, is it too much to wish that Bransfield condemn mountaintop removal and fracking and to apologize for promoting the lie of clean coal? Shouldn’t he promote clearly the church’s teaching on workers’ rights and oppose the continued attack on those rights that we saw in West Virginia’s recent legislative session, especially in the passing of the Right to Work bill? (The brief, vague diocesan statement issued on the legislation will not do). Might we expect him to join so many others explicitly calling for tougher penalties for those who violate mining regulations?

To do any of this, however, the church must be free of the corrupting influence of the coal industry’s financial gifts. On this anniversary of Upper Big Branch, the Diocese should exercise financial transparency and make a clear commitment to refuse the financial benefits of a destructive, death-dealing industry. As Pope Francis has said, we don’t need their dirty money.

[This is a shorter, edited version of a longer piece first published at Religion Dispatches, April 14, 2016.] 

© Michael J. Iafrate, 2016. 

Michael J. Iafrate writes from Wheeling, W.Va. He is a doctoral candidate in theology at the University of St. Michael’s College (Toronto) and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. He can be reached at michael.iafrate@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia.

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