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This Land Is Home to Me

Appalachian Catholic Bishops, 1975

Many of our Catholic people
especially church workers
have asked us to respond
to the cries of powerlessness
from the region called Appalachia.
We have listened to these cries
and now we lend our own voice.

The cries come now from Appalachia,
but they are echoed
across the land
across the earth
in the suffering of too many people.
Together these many sufferings
form a single cry.

The Living God hears this cry
and tells us,
what long ago
on a different mountain,
was told the servant Moses that,

God had heard the cry of a people.
God would deliver them out of the hands of oppression.
God would give them a rich and broad land.

But before we turn
to this message from God,
we must hear first
the cry of Appalachia's poor.
Their cry is a strong message,
not because we have made it that way,
but because the truth of Appalachia
is harsh.
In repeating this message
we do not put ourselves
in judgement of others.
The truth of Appalachia
is judgement upon us all,
making hard demands on us bishops,
as well as on others.

We know that there will be other opinions
about the truth of Appalachia,
other views than those of the poor.
But we must remind ourselves
that the poor are special
in the eyes of God,
for we have been told,
in the voice of Mary,

God has pulled down princes from their thrones,
and exalted the lowly.
The hungry have been filled with good things,
the rich sent empty away. (Luke 1:52-53)

Even so,
we know that our words are not perfect.
For that reason,
this letter is but one part
of an unfinished conversation
with our people
with the truth of Appalachia
with the Living God.

Yet we still dare to speak,
and speak strongly,
first,
because we trust our people
and we know
that those who belong to Yahweh
truly wish to do God's will;
and second,
because we believe
that the cry of the poor
is also a message of hope,
a promise from Jesus,
that there can be a better way,
for Jesus has told us,

The Truth will make you free. (John 8:32)

Part I: The land and its people

Appalachia makes us think
of people who live in the hills,
who love nature's freedom
and beauty,
who are alive with song
and poetry.
But many of these people are also poor
and suffer oppression.

Once they went to the mountains
fighting to build a dream
different from the injustice
they knew before.
Until this day,
their struggle continues,
a bitter fight
whose sound still rumbles
across the hills.

Yes, the poor of the mountains
have been wounded,
but they are not crushed.

The Spirit still lives.
The sound of music
still ripples through the hills.
Continually the tears of song
burn in outrage,
and outrage lives in struggle.

But the hillfolk of the mountains
are not the only ones who struggle.

Besides the struggle in hollows,
typical of the central region,
there are struggles in industrial centers,
grown grey with smoke and smog,
blaring with the clank and crash
of heavy machinery
and urban congestion,
where working people,
and those who wish there was work,
white and black,
native and immigrant,
speakers of one and many languages,
battle for dignity and security,
for themselves and for their children.

So too there is the struggle in farmland,
typical of rolling hills in the southern sector,
where little farmers and sharecroppers,
day laborers and migrant workers,
who help the earth
yield its food to the hungry,
battle for that same dignity and security,
for themselves and their children.

In all three areas
- the center
- the north
- the south

In every labor
- the mine
- the factory
- the farm
the struggle is different, yet remains the same.

It is at once the struggle
- of all Appalachia
- of the whole nation
- of the human family.

The Appalachian mountains
form the spiny backbone
of the Eastern United States.
This whole stretch,
which the Federal Government calls
"The Appalachian Region",
runs from Southern New York
to Northern Georgia and Alabama.
It contains 397 counties
in 13 states,
parts of
- Alabama,
- Georgia,
- Kentucky,
- Maryland,
- Mississippi,
- New York,
- North Carolina,
- Ohio,
- Pennsylvania,
- South Carolina,
- Tennessee,
- Virginia,
and all of West Virginia.
In the region there are:
mountain folk,
city folk,
country folk,
coal miners and steel workers,
union workers and non-union workers,
industrial workers and service workers,
farmers and farm laborers,
housewives and children,
teachers and health workers,
ministers and rabbis and priests,
artists and poets,
professionals and technicians,
lawyers and politicians,
lobbyists and interest groups,
executives and managers,
little business people and big business people,
coal companies and chemical companies,
industrialists and bankers.

So, you see,
Appalachia is not a simple place.
There are rich and poor,
big and little,
new and old,
and lots in between.

But somehow,
no matter how confusing it seems,
it's all tied together
by the mountain chain
and by the coal in its Center,
producing energy within it.

Of course,
there is more than coal
in the region.
There is
gas,
timber,
oil,
farms,
steel mills,
cheap labor,
but coal is central.Coal

There is a saying in the region
that coal is king.
That's not exactly right.
The kings are those who control big coal,
and the profit and power
which come with it.
Many of these kings
don't live in the region.

A long time ago in this country
when big industry just got started,
Appalachian coal played a big role.
It fed the furnaces
of our first industrial giants,
like Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
The coal-based industry
created many jobs,
and brought great progress to our country,
but it brought other things, too,
among them
oppression for the mountains.

Soon the mountain people
were dependent on the coal companies
and on the company towns
that came with them.

An old song sings,
Another day older
and deeper in debt.
That was life for many people
who lived in the shadow
of the mountain's coal.

Many of our Catholic people
lived under this suffering
- in the coal mines,
- in the steel mills,
- in the other harsh jobs
that surrounded coal and steel.

Then came the unions,
as men and women fought hard
to change their lot.
The unions did good work
and for that reason
they were bitterly attacked
by enemies of justice.

But seeds of injustice
were also sown
within the labor movement.

Sometimes criminal forces entered
to crush their democratic structure,
or to use one union base
to prevent union growth in other areas,
or to turn contracts
into documents of deceit,
both for labor and management,
thus encouraging their breech
from both sides.
Sometimes workers allowed themselves
to be used for selfish ends,
like keeping out blacks,
or women,
or Indians,
or Spanish-speaking people.
Sometimes the labor movement
thought only of workers in the U.S.
and did not take seriously,
their membership in the global human family.

Sometimes, too,
they used the unions
to protect the relative advantages
of a few workers
and little concern for
the great disadvantage of the many.

The real power of the labor movement,
a power which has not been totally crushed,
is the vision that
an injury to one is an injury to all,
whether to white or black,
whether to male or female,
whether to worker or consumer,
whether to union member or non-member,
whether to U.S. citizen or to citizen
of any nation.

But later on for many people,
whose lives were tied to coal,
the unions didn't matter so much any more.
Coal gave way to oil,
and a different suffering
came across the mountains.

The mines in the hills
began to close.
The industrial thunder
of cities near the mines
weakened.
The people from the mountains
fled to the cities
looking for jobs.
But in the cities
the jobs were few.
It is a strange system which makes people suffer
both when they have work
and when they don't have work.

 

The Wider Picture

The people had to fight one another for the few jobs:
- mountain people against city people,
- white people against black people,
- Irish people against Polish and Italian people,
- skilled workers against unskilled workers,
- union workers against non-union workers.

As the people were forced
to fight over jobs,
self-defense became a way of life,
- in wars,
- in sports,
- in movies,
- even sometimes at home.

Our country meanwhile
grew strong and powerful
because of
- exploding war-stimulated technology,
- cheap raw materials from abroad,
- lots of oil,
- and a large work force.

But many people stayed poor,
and suffered attacks on their dignity,
especially
- Native Americans,
- Blacks,
- Mexican Americans,
- immigrants,
- Puerto Ricans,
- and poor whites, like Appalachians.

Brothers and sisters in suffering,
these people were often forced
to turn against one another,
for some meager piece of a pie,
which, however big
(the biggest the world had ever known),
refused to feed all its children.

As industrial production grew,
it brought blessings to the human family,
but the more it grew
the more some felt
it became like a cancer
eating away its own foundation.

The system produced
for production's sake,
and it tried to train people to consume
for consumption's sake.
The ever growing production and consumption
needed ever more energy,
more than domestic gas
and domestic oil
can supply.

When foreign oil producing nations
suddenly became more demanding
on the world market,
giant U.S. business interests
(who before used to decide prices
of things like oil
on the world market)
got frightened.
They began to plan for
U.S. "energy independence".
One way to do that
was to go back
to a half dead and forgotten past,
to coal.

Back to the Mountains

So the corporate giants turn their eyes
to the mountains once again.
Slowly, but powerfully,
their presence rumbles in
the heavy trod of
the powerful among the powerful,
those who control:
- finance and credit,
- information systems,
- and energy resources.

Already voices from this camp
have spoken of Appalachia as
an "energy reservation",
or "giant industrial park".

Appalachia,
a field of powerlessness,
may soon become the seat
of economic power in the United States.

But the new power,
which a return to coal
could bring to Appalachia,
would probably not make its people
any more powerful.
Instead, they would live
a different kind of powerlessness,
one common to the rest of our society
the powerlessness of isolated little people
in the face of the most powerful corporate giants
on this earth.

The Worship Of An Idol

The way of life
which these corporate giants create
is called by some
"technological rationalization".
Its forces contain the promise
of a world where
- poverty is eliminated,
- health is cared for,
- education is available for all,
- dignity is guaranteed,
- and old age is secure.
Too often, however,
its forces become perverted,
hostile to the dignity of the earth
and of its people.

Its destructive growth patterns
- pollute the air,
- foul the water,
- rape the land.

The driving force
behind this perversion is
"Maximization of Profit",
a principle which too often converts itself
into an idolatrous power.

This power overwhelms the good intentions
of noble people.
It forces them to compete brutally
with one another.
It pushes people into
"conspicuous consumption"
and "planned obsolescence."
It delivers up control
to a tiny minority
whose values then shape
our social structures.

Of course, technological rationalization
and the profit principle
have served important functions
in human development.
It is not they themselves
that form an idol,
but the idol is formed
when they become absolutes
and fail to yield,
when the time has come,
to other principles.

Neither do we believe
that our people,
or the people of the nation,
have totally fallen prey
to the power of this idol.
But even without that happening,
"Maximization of profit"
in today's world,
has become a crazy death wish,
every day using up more and more
of the earth's riches
and our own dignity.
Like those who write spy thrillers,
its process is fascinated
with everything that can
"self-destruct",
even if it is ourselves.

Without judging anyone,
it has become clear to us
that the present economic order
does not care for its people.
In fact,
profit and people frequently are contradictory.
Profit over people
is an idol.
And it is not a new idol,
for Jesus long ago warned us,

No one can be the slave of two slave-drivers;
the first will be hated
and the second loved,
or the first treated with respect,
and the second with scorn.
You cannot be the slave
both of God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

This is not a problem
only for mountain folk;
it is everybody's problem.

 

Appalachia As A Symbol

In a country whose productive force
is greater than anything the world has ever known,
the destructive idol
shows its ugly face
in places like Appalachia.

The suffering of Appalachia's poor
is a symbol
of so much other suffering
- in our land,
- in our world.
It is also a symbol
of the suffering which awaits
the majority of plain people
in our society
- if they are laid off,
- if major illness occurs,
- if a wage earner dies,
- or if anything else goes wrong.

In this land of ours,
jobs are often scarce.
Too many people are forced
to accept unjust conditions or else lose their jobs.

Human services for the poor,
and for the almost poor,
are inadequate.
Safety standards
are often too weak
or ignored.
Workers are injured
unnecessarily.

Legal and medical recourse
for claims against occupational injury
or occupational disease
are often too difficult
or unavailable.
Sometimes
those who should be helping people
in their claims
seem to stand in the way.
Black Lung
and mine accidents
are the most famous examples,
but not the only ones.

On the other hand,
powerful reform movements
are underway
- in the union movement,
- in community organizing,
- in the consumer movement,
- in public interest lobbies,
- in religious circles.

To these must be added
even forces from within the
business community:
- managerial personnel who are
concerned not only with salaries
and promotion, but also with the
contribution of the economic order
to social well being,
particularly the bringing of jobs
to poor areas;
- small and medium size business people,
who wish to operate justly,
but who struggle under the pressure of
giant economic competitors
ruthlessly trying to wipe them out;-

stockholders who rebel against
the impersonal structure of ownership
and try to make their voices felt
for justice within large corporations.

Together these groups struggle
to achieve what must become
the foundation principle
of our common life,
namely citizen involvement
- in our productive base,
- in our political institutions,
- in our cultural life.
The main task for such citizen involvement
will be to build social structures
which provide full employment
and decent wages
for all people.

Despite abuses,
we feel that a strong and broad
labor movement
is basic,
one which can stabilize the labor market
North and South,
East and West,
and prevent groups
from playing off different sectors
of working people
against each other.
Even so,
these movements are just beginning
and reach too few people.

We know also that as they grow stronger,
they will be attacked;
that other forces
will try to crush them.

Unaccountable economic powers
will continue to use
democratic political institutions
for non-democratic purposes.
Sometimes this shows itself brutally,
when officers of the law act like company enforcers.
At other times, it's more complicated
when lawyers and legislators
seem to get paid
to keep the people confused,
and to find loop-holes
for the benefit of the rich.

These same massive economic forces,
still accountable to no one,
will even use vehicles of our cultural life,
like communications media and advertising,
and even the educational system,
to justify their ways,
and to pass their values
as our national values.
This happens
when news that's important to people
can't get time or space,
or when school programs
are designed by experts
without incorporating the voice of the people.

We know that there are many
- sincere business people,
- zealous reporters,
- truthful teachers,
- honest law enforcement officers,
- dedicated public officials,
- hard working lawyers and legislators
who try to do a good job.
But we know too that,
the way things are set up,
it's hard for good people
to do a good job.

It's strange, for instance,
that despite earlier reforms,
a country which took such richness from Appalachia
left so little for the people.
Great fortunes were built
on the exploitation of
Appalachian workers
and Appalachian resources;
yet the land was left
without revenues
to care for its social needs, like
- education,
- welfare,
- old age,
- and illness.

Some may say,
"That's economics",
but we say
that economics is made by people.
Its principles don't fall down from the sky
and remain for all eternity.
Those who claim
they are prisoners of the laws of economics
only testify
that they are prisoners of the idol.

The same thing which is so obvious in Appalachia
goes on outside the mountains.
Plain people work hard all their life,
and their parents worked hard before them,
yet they can't make ends meet.
- Food is too expensive.
- Taxes are too high for most.
(Too low for the rich.)
- Sickness puts people into debt.
- College is out of reach for their children.
- Paychecks keep shrinking.
And it's worse still for those who can't work,
especially the elderly.

Meanwhile,
corporate profits
for the giant conglomerates,
who control our energy resources,
keep on skyrocketing.

But now there is some promise
of fresh "economic development"
in the Appalachian region,
at least if our industry returns
to a substantial coal base.

From the rest of the world, however,
we know now, after hard experiences,
that "development" often brings little
to the poor
or to the workers;
often the reverse.
Yet even if it were to bring prosperity,
there is a question we must ask
about the new energy resources.

It is,
"How will we use our energy?"
as well as,
"Where will we get it from?"

If our present system keeps on growing and growing,
it will burn up us
and our world.
The present pattern of energy use,
a great deal of which goes for military production
or else for the production of discardable junk,
is barbaric.

This nation,
containing about 6 percent of the earth's population,
consumes over one-third of the earth's energy
and causes 40 percent of the earth's industrial pollution.
But even that doesn't tell
the whole truth,
because, at least by 1962 figures,
1.6 percent of the population of this country
owned 80 percent of the corporate wealth,
so that averages or per capita statistics
really mislead us
about the ordinary people's situation.
Some talk about a population problem
among the poor.
There's an even bigger consumption problem
among the rich
consumption not just of luxuries,
but of power,
of the power to shape
- economic structures,
- political structures,
- cultural structures
all in the service of
- more waste,
- more profit,
- more power.
Even worse,
U.S. energy consumption is expected
to double in the next decade.
What kind of a world would it be,
where "Maximization of Profit"
destroys life
for so many today,
and for future generations?

Ironically,
most people in this country
are not satisfied with the consumer society.
It makes life a rat race,
where nobody feels they belong,
where all are pushed around,
where roots disappear.
With so much busy-ness
and clutter of things,
- things that don't work,
- things you have to keep fixing,
- no time to play or sing
like folks used to.
We get lost in our busy-ness
and grow to hate and abuse
all our things.

Worse still,
swallowing us up in things
is the power of the idol
which eats away at our openness
to the Living God.

But the children of the mountains
have fought for a different way.
Their struggles and their poetry
together keep alive
- a dream,
- a tradition,
- a longing,
- a promise
which is not just their dream,
but the voiceless vision
buried beneath life's bitterness
wherever it is found.

They sing of a life
free and simple,
with time for one another,
and for people's needs,
based on the dignity of the human person,
at one with nature's beauty,
crowned by poetry.
If that dreams dies,
all our struggles die with it.

Defending The Struggle's Dream

Many times before,
outside forces
have attacked the mountain's dream.
But never before
was the attack so strong.
Now it comes with
- cable TV,
- satellite communications,
- giant ribbons of highway
driving into the guts of the land.

The attack wants to teach people
that happiness is what you buy
- soaps and drinks,
- in gimmicks and gadgets,
and that all of life
is one big commodity market.

It would be bad enough
if the attack only tried
to take the land,
but it wants the soul, too.
When it has its way,
the poet is silent.
Instead comes
noisy blare and din,
the chatter of a language
empty of meaning,
but filled with violence.

This struggle of resistance
is a struggle against violence --
against institutional violence
which sometimes subtly,
sometimes brutally,
attacks human dignity and life.

Therefore,
although the Catholic tradition
fully acknowledges the legitimacy
of self-defense and force
as the final recourse
against injustice,
we must beware of the temptation
of a too easy violence --
of a bitterness which can poison
that for which we struggle,
or which
still worse,
can provoke from forces of injustice
an even more brutal and repressive
institutional violence
whose first victim
is always the poor.

It is the mountain's spirit of resistance
which must be defended
at any cost,
for at stake is the spirit
of all our humanity.
There are too few spaces of soul
left in our lives.

Once we all
- knew how to dance and sing,
- sat in mystery before the poet's spell,
- felt our hearts rise to nature's cathedral.
Now an alien culture
battles to shape us
into plastic forms empty of Spirit,
into beasts of burden
without mystery.

If the struggle's dream can be defended,
and we believe it can,
then perhaps the great instruments of attack,
- cable TV,
- satellite communications,
- ribbons of highway,
can become like so many arms,
which instead of crushing life,
reach out to make it fuller,
to bring to others
beyond the mountains,
the promise of their vision.

Part II. The answer of Jesus & his church

The God of the Poor

The living God,
the Lord whom we worship,
is the God of the poor.

In Israel,
God's very self was revealed to a people
in their liberation from oppression
under the bondage of Egypt:
I have seen the miserable state
of my people in Egypt.
I have heard their appeal to be free
of their slave-drivers . . .
I mean to deliver them
out of the hands of the Egyptians . . .
And now the cry of the children of Israel
has come to me.
That day, Yahweh rescued Israel
from the Egyptians . . .
and the people venerated Yahweh . . . (Exodus 3:7-9,30-31)

Not only in the liberation of a people
is God revealed
as the Living God,
but also within Israel
by defending all those
who are victims of injustice.

God will free the people who call out,
and those who need help,
God will have pity on the poor and feeble . . .
God will redeem their lives
from exploitation and outrage. (Psalms 72:12-14)

Thus, the God of Israel,
who is also our God,
is the God of the poor,
because he frees the oppressed.

The Messiah & His Reign
But Israel's mission
was to the whole world,
not just to its own nation.
As injustice against Israel
and throughout the world
seemed to mount higher,
Yahweh promisedto send a liberator.
This one was to be a great leader,
whose reign would bring justice.
For this Messiah
Israel prayed:

God, give judgement to your Anointed,
to those who follow your justice,
that your people may be judged in justice
and your poor in right judgement.
May the mountains bring forth
peace for the people
and the hills, justice.
May your Anointed defend
the poor of the people,
save the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor. (Psalm 72:1-4,12-13)

And there came among us,
a man from Israel,
whom we confess to be
God-with-us,
the messiah long promised.And when he rose up
to speak in his native Nazareth,
he chose the words
from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of God has been given to me,
for Yahweh has anointed me.
God has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim Yahweh's year of favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

And when, like Moses of old,
this Jesus climbed a mount
to tell the people his Father's law,
he left no doubt
that he was indeed
the messiah of the poor:

How happy are you who are poor:
yours is the kingdom of God.
Happy you who are hungry now:
you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now:
you shall laugh . . .
But alas for you who are rich:
you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have your fill now:
you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now:
you shall mourn and weep. (Luke 6:21,24-25)

The Messiah, the Creator and their Spirit
are the Living God.
They are different from the dead idols
which clutter history,
because they,
and not the idols,
act for justice.
The dead idols prove
to be gods of oppression.

I am Yahweh your God who brought you
out of the land of Egypt,
out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no gods except me. (Exodus 20:1-3)

The choice between the Living God
and inert idols
is not only a choice between justice
and injustice;
it is also a choice
between life
and death.

Today,
I set before you life or death,
blessings or curse.
Choose life, then,
so that you and your descendants may live,
in the love of Yahweh your God,
obeying God's voice,
clinging to God;
for in this your life consists,
and on this depends your long stay
in the land which Yahweh
swore to your ancestors . . . (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

 

The Church's Mission

Out of faith in the risen Jesus
a new community of people is born,
seeking to be united
in one mind and spirit
with him.
Upon this community
Jesus pours forth his Spirit,
the Spirit of truth,
who teaches us everything
and reminds us of all he said to us.

The whole group of believers was united,
heart and soul;
no one claimed for personal use
anything that was owned,
as everything they had was held in common . . .
None of their members was ever in want,
as all those who owned land or houses
would sell them,
and bring the money for them,
to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed
to any members who might be in need. (Acts 4:32-35)

Still the church
is not perfect.
Its early bishop James
had to remind the people:

. . . it was those who are poor
according to the world
that Yahweh chose, to be rich in faith
and to be heirs to all that was promised
to those who love God.

In spite of this,
you have no respect for anybody who is poor.
Isn't it always the rich who are against you?
Isn't it always their doing
when you are dragged before the court?
Aren't they the ones who insult
the honorable name to which you have been dedicated? (James
2:5-7)

Yet the church continues, despite its sins,
working for the poor,
insisting on practical love,
and not just prayers
and good intentions:

In this way we distinguish the children of God
from the children of the devil . . .
we are to love one another,
not to be like Cain
who cut his brother's throat . . .

If you refuse to love, you must remain dead;
to hate your brother or sister is to be a murderer . . .
This has taught us love
that Jesus gave up his life for us;
and we, too, ought to give up our lives
for our brothers and sisters.

If those who were rich enough in this world's goods saw that a
sister or brother was in need,
but closed their hearts,
how could the love of God be living in them?

My children,
our love is not to be just words or mere talk,
but something real and active;
only by this can we be certain
that we are children of the truth . . . (1 John 3:10-12,15-19)

Through the ages,
the church tries to be faithful
to this message.
At times it begins to stray from it,
but always the Spirit is alive within it,
stirring up new voices
to call it back
to its mission for Justice.

The Church's Social Teaching

For a long time now,
our Church has been restless
with what many call
"The Modern World".
There is much in this modern world
which is good and beautiful:
the sense of freedom,
the progress of science and technology,
the personal creativity unleased from
under stifling traditions,
the growing unity of the human family.

God has challenged us
to take up as holy
whatever is good and beautiful
in the modern world
as in all of creation.

But has also challenged us
to resist what is evil,
especially injustice.

Since the industrial age,
we have been active,
speaking and acting
on behalf of the casualties
of the new economic spirit.

At the end of the last Century,
Pope Leo XIII,
wrote a great letter,
On the Condition of the Working Classes (Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII)

Our own past brother,
Archbishop Gibbons of Baltimore,
made a great plea that this letter
reflect the views of the common people.
He told the pope,
To lose the heart of the people
would be a misfortune
for which the friendship of the few rich and powerful
would be no compensation.

In the wake of Leo's letter,
as the destructiveness of the new economic order
continued unchecked,
the U.S. Catholic bishops
felt compelled themselves
to draft a letter to their people
on the question of social reconstruction.
While acknowledging that the American people
were not ready for major reconstruction,
and that the present industrial system is
destined to last for a long time . . .
the bishops condemned three grievous abuses:
enormous inefficiency and waste
in the production and distribution of commodities;
insufficient incomes for the great majority
of wage earners;
and unnecessarily large incomes
for a small minority of privileged capitalists.

Further, they argued for an industrialism
based on cooperation
rather than on competition:
The majority must somehow become owners,
or at least in part,
of the instruments of production.

Finally, in discussing remedies,
they laid down the following principle:

. . . human beings cannot be trusted
with the immense opportunities for oppression and extortion that
go with the possession of monopoly power.

Still the injustices continued,
so much so that Pope Pius XI felt obliged
to publish another letter,
forty years after Leo's letter,
On Reconstructing the Social Order and Perfecting It Comfortably
to the Precepts of the Gospel.
Pius XI pointed out that,
. . . in our days not alone is wealth accumulated,
but immense power and despotic economic domination
is concentrated in the hands of a few . . .
This concentration of power has led to
a threefold struggle for domination.
First, . . . the struggle for dictatorship
in the economic sphere itself;
then, the fierce battle to acquire control of the state, so that
its resources and authority
may be abused in the economic struggles;
finally, the clash between states themselves.

The Catholic bishops of the United States
again responded with their own letter,
The Church and Social Order,
in 1940.
They lamented that an unjust society
had caused many working people
to become alienated from religion
and to have lost faith and hope.
Reminding economic powers that
the earth is God's and
the fullness thereof, (Psalm 23:1)
they especially denounced
concentration of ownership and control,
the anonymous character of economic interests.

The social system at that time,
at the end of the great depression,
was generating great economic insecurity
for many people.
The bishops judged then that,
an important factor making for insecurity
is the immense power and despotic domination
which is concentrated in the hands of those few
who frequently are not the owners,
but only the trustees and directors
of invested funds.

They single out one group
in this attack:
Those who, because they hold and
control money,
are able also to govern credit
and determine its allotment,
for that reason supplying,
so to speak,
the life-blood to the entire economy,
and grasping as it were in their hands
the very soul of production.

They called for a more just social order,
where property would be broadly distributed
and people would be truly responsible for one another.

Now, close to our own day,
the popes have continued to speak
on the social question.
Many will remember the warm letters
of Pope John XXIII,
Peace On Earth (Pacem in Teris) and Mother And Teacher (Mater et
Magistra),
and Pope Paul's letters
On The Development Of Peoples (Populorum Progressio)
and A Call To Action.
In a more contemporary context,
with w view to the poor across the globe,
the popes have called us back
to the message of Jesus
and to Yahweh, the God of Justice.

We bishops have not been silent either.
At the Vatican Council
we spoke strongly for justice and the poor
in The Pastoral Constitution On The Church
In The Modern World
"The joys and the hopes,
the griefs and the anxieties . . .
of this age,
especially those who are poor
or in any way afflicted."

And finally, when we gathered in Synod
with all our fellow bishops of the world,
scrutinizing the signs of the times
and listening to the Word of God,
we were
"able to perceive the serious injustices
which are building around the world
a network of domination, oppression, and abuse . . . ."

But we also noted
"A new awareness which shakes (people)
out of any fatalistic resignation
and which spurs them on to liberate themselves . . .
Action on behalf of justice
and participation in the transformation of the world
fully appear to us
as a constitutive dimension
of the preaching of the Gospel,
or, in other words,
of the Church's mission
for the redemption of the human race
and its liberation from every oppressive situation.

Thus,
there must be no doubt,
that we, who must speak the message
of God who summoned Moses,
and whose mouth was opened
in Jesus of Nazareth,
and who keeps the Spirit alive
on behalf of justice
for so many centuries,
can only become advocates of the poor.

This is not to be simplistic,
to see all in black and white,
to be ignorant of economics
and the contributions of other human sciences,
but in a profound sense
the choices are simple
and stark:
- death or life;
- injustice or justice;
- idolatry or the Living God.

We must choose life.
We must choose justice.
We must choose the Living God.

 

PART III. Facing the future

A Process of Dialogue And Testing

More and more people recognize
that a new social order is being born.
Indeed,
the Spirit of God
presses us to this recognition.
We do not understand it all,
but we know we are part of it,
- in Appalachia,
- in our nation,
- across the world.

In what follows,
we hope to give some guidance
to our Catholic people
for sharing in that birth struggle.

We have no easy answers,
so this is but a first step.
It must not be the last step.
Hopefully, this letter,
itself a product of dialogue,
will start a process,
wherein the Catholic community
can join together with people of good will
throughout the region
to reflect on and act for
a more just society.

While we have no answers,
we have some principles
to guide the process.
Our searching must carefully balance
the following three elements:
closness to the people;
careful use of scientific resources;
a steeping in the presence of the Spirit.

In regard to the first element, we must
continually take time and invest creativity
into listening to our people,
especially the poor.
For it is they who,
out of their frustrations, dreams, and struggles,
must lead the way for all of us.

Next we must listen to the vast majority
of plain people
who would not be called poor,
but who are not rich,
and who increasingly share
in the powerlessness of the poor.
Finally, strange as it may seem,
we must also challenge the rich.
For although Jesus himself
has told us that
It is easier for a camel to pass through
the eye of a needle,
than for the rich
to enter heaven, (Matthew 19:24)
and although one rich young man
went away sad,
for he was a man of great wealth, (Luke 19:22)
there is also
the story of Zacchaeus
who accepted the demands of justice,
who returned his property to the poor
and paid back four fold
whatever was stolen.

That day salvation came to his house,
The Messiah has come
to seek out and save what was lost. (Luke 19:10)

Throughout this whole process
of listening to the people,
the goal which underlies our concern
is fundamental in the justice struggle,
namely, citizen control,
or community control.
The people themselves
must shape their own destiny.
Despite the theme of powerlessness,
we know that Appalachia
is already rich here
in the cooperative power
of its own people.

In regard to the second element,
we must be careful with science,
because scientific models are not value free.
So much of science has been used,
in the contemporary world,
to oppress rather than liberate,
but science is not itself evil.
Rather it is our task to take it up,
and to infuse it
with wisdom and humility,
in the service of justice.

In regard to the third,
we note with joy
to renewed zeal
for the presence of the Spirit
in prayer and meditation
among our Catholic people.
We know that if this renewed presencecan mature into a convergence
with the thirst for justice,
a new Pentecost will truly be upon us.

To begin this process
of dialogue and testing
we invite
the Catholic Committee of Appalachia
to draft
for us and with us,
as well as for and with
all people of good will,
a comprehensive plan of action.
Together we may begin to test it
throughout the region.
This plan would constitute
our first tool which,
hopefully, each year
could be brought up to date,
in the light of fresh experience.

There are several specific points
which now we would like to recommend
for inclusion in the action plan.

First, and most important,
in accord with our recommendation
from the Synod document,
Justice in the World,
we would like to
commend where they exist
and recommend where they do not,
Centers of Reflection and Prayer,
in the service of action,
throughout the region.

Such centers could
integrate the analytical social science skills
and the profound spirituality
necessary for persevering creativity
in the struggle for justice.
They could also link fragmented struggles
from different parts of the region,
and even outside the region,
thus supporting healthy localism
with the richness of a wider national
and international network.

In addition,
we would like to know in what way
the Church might cooperate
with other major institutions
of the region,
provided they are open
to the voice of the poor.
Especially we welcome
the opportunity to share with
university people,
people skilled in economic life,
artists and poets,
government people.

Also,
as suggested by the letter of Paul VI,
A Call to Action,
we commend where they exist,
and recommend where they do not,
Centers of Popular Culture,
in every parish,
or in areas where there are no parishes,
as a sign of the Church's concern,
linked to the broader action centers,
places where the poor feel welcome,
spaces for people to come and share
at all levels,
so that if a new society is to be born,
it will emerge from the grass roots.

Especially we stress
emphasis on the economic questions,
for these are the first and most basic
questions for all people.
We call attention
to the presence of powerful
multinational corporations
now within our region.
The fate and role of these institutions
is a major question
not only for Appalachia,
but for the whole world.
Pope Paul VI has warned us that,
The multinational enterprises . . .
largely independent of the national political powers
and therefore not subject to control
from the viewpoint of the common good . . .
can lead to a new and abusive form
of economic domination of the social, cultural,
and even political level.
The excessive concentration of means and powers
that Pope Pius XI already condemned
on the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum
is taking on a new and very real image.

As a counter-force
to the unaccountable power
of these multinational corporations,
there must arise a corresponding
multinational labor movement,
rooted in a vision of justice,
rising above corruption
and narrowness,
with a universal concern
- for all workers,
- for all consumers,
- for all people.

We are happy to note
that some voices at least
are raising up such a vision
within the ranks of labor.

Finally,
there are a number of issues
which we hope the Committee
will take up in its investigations.
We simply list them here,
knowing that there may be many more:
- role of coal in the life of the region & nation;
- energy consumption patterns and lifestyle;
- strip mining and deep mining;
- land acquisition;
- retribution and redistribution;
- tourism and recreation industries;
- exploitation of cheap labor;
- occupational health and safety;
- union reform and extension;
- community unions;
- community organizing and citizen control;
- public voice in local, state and national politics;
- church investments as seed money;
- cooperatives;
- education;
- health systems;
- family life;
- the elderly;
- arts and crafts;
- music and poetry;
- prayer.

Conclusion

As this letter closes, sisters and brothers,
we wish you
and all people throughout the region
the gift of peace in Jesus.
We know that all those who love Jesus
will struggle to follow his path,
no matter how confusing that may be
during these times.

We ask you to weigh seriously with the Spirit
the matters we have put before you,
- in your own silence;
- in your families;
- in your work;
- in your parishes.

We ask you to share in dialogue and testing
with the leaders of your local church
and with us bishops
what we have presented here.
There will be different views,
but let us test them together
- with the people,
- with one another,
- and with the Spirit.

We wish to thank
the many Spirit-filled and dedicated
people of our Church,
who all along have been struggling
in hidden or dramatic ways,
for justice and unity among people.
We thank the youth
who have not given up hope,
and who continue to believe in freshness
in human experience.
We thank parents,
whose lives have been such
that our youth have reason to hope.
We thank the elderly,
who despite great hardship,
continue to survive
with spirit and grace,
and whose quiet wisdom
inspires us all.

We thank the volunteers,
not of this region,
the countless sisters and brothers,
priests and lay people,
who have come to work at our side.

We especially thank
women in the region,
for we cannot but note the great role women
have played here
in the struggle for justice.
In the contemporary mission of the Church,
the voice and action of women
bring a special charism to the struggle
for justice.

Dear sisters and brothers,
we urge all of you
not to stop living,
to be a part of the rebirth of utopias,
to recover and defend the struggling dream
of Appalachia itself.
For it is the weak things of this world
which seem like folly,
that the Spirit takes up
and makes its own.
The dream of the mountains' struggle,
the dream of simplicity
and of justice,
like so many other repressed visions
is, we believe,
the voice of Yahweh among us.

In taking them up,
hopefully the Church
might once again
be known as
- a center of the Spirit,
- a place where poetry dares to speak,
- where the song reigns unchallenged,
- where art flourishes,
- where nature is welcome,
- where little people and little needs
come first,
- where justice speaks loudly,
- where in a wilderness of idolatrous
destruction the great voice of God still cries
out for Life.

 

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