Day 4: This Land Is Still Home to Me

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Readings for Today

6314980496_8b2926e629_zForty years ago this month Wheeling College witnessed the unveiling of a remarkable document, “This Land is Home to Me, A Pastoral Letter on Powerlessness in Appalachia by the Catholic bishops of the Region.”

The letter drew upon a series of listening sessions held throughout the mountains the previous year in which all sorts of folk spoke on their hopes and fears. The joining of this testimony to the witness of Scripture and the social justice teachings of the Church created a prophetic document which has seized the imaginations of the faithful over the world.

The letter tells the tale of mountain dwellers who “love nature’s freedom and beauty” finding themselves increasingly in the toils of an industrial system “which produced for production’s sake and tried to train people to consume for consumption’s sake.” In Appalachia the epitome of this Idol of “Maximization of Profit” was King Coal with its impact on society and nature.. The struggles of mountain folk, inspired by the “messiah of the poor,” against this Idol make Appalachia a Symbol for the sufferings of plain folk everywhere, their resistance against dehumanization and destruction.

The bishops conclude their letter with this ringing affirmation:

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 the Lord among us.


 Reflection Questions:

  • In the Appalachian coalfields, the interrelation of what Pope Francis calls human ecology and natural ecology is manifest. Both suffer. Is this true for your region?
  • Where you live, what is the dream and the struggle?

Fr. O’Donnell has taught courses at UDM and WJU on our relationship to technological systems and to nature. Presently he serves as Executive Secretary of the Catholic Conference of West Virginia, lobbying on social justice issues.

5 replies
  1. Frank OBrien
    Frank OBrien says:

    Does powerless never end? Can we change things at all. Certainly the ultimate example of powerless is people in the church. The only way to escape this powerlessness is to be ordained personally, and then perpetuate the system. Is this a hopeless situation?

  2. Mary Anne
    Mary Anne says:

    My family roots are Appalachian. Many in the mountains live in poverty and amid eco-destruction. Yes, there are inequalities and injustices in the church, and that’s important to address. But it’s apples and oranges to compare that with being hungry, poor, having few or no choices, and having a mountain blown off nearby that then poisons the water supply. This land is home to me.

  3. Frank O'Brien
    Frank O'Brien says:

    Hi I agree that physical suffering is severe. But there are people leaving the church in droves, more than half, because they can’t take their own psychological pain, sisters, nuns, lay people, because they cannot get into the inner circle and feel isolated

  4. Frank O'Brien
    Frank O'Brien says:

    Wonder how many people are involved in these daily meditations? It would be nice not to be isolated and alone in prayer.

  5. Ann Fiona
    Ann Fiona says:

    Hello, I am very much appreciating these reflections (though I am trying to catch up – day 9 has just arrived in my inbox! and here I am on 4).
    Frank, please expand on and clarify what you say here .. people leaving the church because of their own pain (which the church is not receiving, acknowledging, let alone facilitating the healing of) … and what do you mean by an inner circle?
    Perhaps it is intimacy that we need, within the embrace of the Holy Trinity, with each other, and with the Earth.
    At our church in Johannesburg we have an Encounter with God this Lent, an Ignatian retraet in daily life – I do pray this meets people’s longing for intimacy in a safe space to talk about G-d.


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