God’s Glory Rediscovered Through The Eyes Of Appalachian Bishops

The Appalachian mountains have been revered by Americans for centuries. They are, without equivocation, a national treasure, which is why Kentucky and West Virgina Catholic Bishops have been speaking out on the degradation of these sacred hills for decades. As the breathtaking landscape succumbs to environmental depravity, Bishops of this once mineral-rich region are reminding everyone that “there is only one world, both created and redeemed, and only one God, both Creator and Redeemer.” (Col. 1:15-20).

Their revamped open letter, 'This Land is Home to Me, a pastoral letter on Powerlessness in Appalachia by the Catholic Bishops of the Region,' first penned in 1975, which received a rewrite in 1995, is once again reborn. The most recent rewrite does, in my opinion, something quite groundbreaking in the world of climate communications. 

"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."

The letter's opening statement contends quite effectively that stewardship and creation care are not an abandonment of the past, rather the adoption of a new, vibrant way of living. One in which all of creation is included, manifesting a utopian-like atmosphere, returning us to a state, not unlike our Genesis. This inclusive and nostalgic rhetoric, while seemingly small, demonstrates a grand redirect in the way we discuss clean energy. Long gone are the days of extracting minerals from the ground, a tradition that moved the earth, misperceived as being consequence-free. The impact is here, and religious leaders from every state are taking a stand together.

Before 'Laudato Si'' Appalachian pastorals explored themes of mining in the mountains

Brian O'Donnell | National Catholic Reporter

From all the rich content of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” regarding theological and scriptural understandings of “Our Common Home,” one section has caught the attention of those living in the coalfields of Central Appalachia. In section 165, the pope turns to what needs to be done in light of climate change: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels — especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

The pope understands that this replacement will not occur quickly, but dialogs concerning the world weaning itself from fossil fuels should begin now. The whole tenor of the encyclical supports the inclusion of the working people affected in such dialogs.

The communities of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, hard hit by a half-century of falling employment in the mines, and by the ongoing replacement of coal by natural gas, may well react defensively to the call to decrease use of coal. However, Laudato Si’ is not the first official Catholic teaching document to deal with the environment, the regime of coal in Appalachia, and the inclusion of working families and the poor in discussions of the future of the coalfields.

Two pastoral letters put forth by the bishops of Appalachia in the late 20th century, the bishops of Appalachia addressed the situation in coal-mining areas, and in more recent times, pastoral letters of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of West Virginia again explored what the church had to say about life in the mountains.

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