'This Land is Home to Me'
Thirty-seven years ago, Bishop Michael Begley led 26 bishops from across 13 states in issuing a landmark pastoral letter on the state of the poor in Appalachia: "This Land is Home to Me."
It had been only three years since he was ordained and installed as bishop of the new Diocese of Charlotte, and "This Land is Home to Me" attracted national attention for its forthright approach to the problems of people in the economically depressed region that included western North Carolina. The cause was one near and dear to his heart: Bishop Begley's involvement with the mountain region had begun during his tenure as director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Raleigh and continued throughout his episcopacy.
"This Land is Home to Me" was promulgated on Feb. 1, 1975, at what is now Wheeling Jesuit University.
THE PASTORAL LETTER'S SIGNIFICANCE
In issuing this pastoral letter, Bishop Begley and the other bishops were acting in partnership with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, a lay organization formed in 1970, to shine the spotlight on the economic disparities and political powerlessness of the people of Appalachia as well as the major commercial exploitation and destruction of the area's resources. Forty years later, the CCA still stands in solidarity with the people of the Appalachian region, and focuses on issues of concern to them such as mountaintop removal mining, labor rights, private prison development, sustainability and climate change, clean air and water, health care and racism.
According to the CCA, the pastoral letter is "widely recognized as (one of) the most influential indigenous writings of the Catholic Church in our times."
The West Virginia Encyclopedia calls the pastoral letter "one of the most significant statements to emerge from the U.S. Catholic Church and has become a model for groups all over the world that are interested in writing on matters of social justice. More than 200,000 copies of the pastoral (letter) are in circulation, and it has been translated into several languages."
The pastoral letter was also groundbreaking in two respects: it was developed with lay involvement – particularly people about whom it was written and directed – and it was written in a free-verse poetic style.
The West Virginia Encyclopedia also describes that "'This Land is Home to Me' was written in response to the concerns raised by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia in 1974 regarding the economic and political inequalities that characterized the Appalachian region. Over the course of the following year, members of the committee traveled throughout Appalachia, listening to individuals, community groups and church workers. The stories that came out of these visits were then incorporated into the writing of the pastoral letter, which was grounded in Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Church on social justice."
Its collaborative, inclusive approach was a major influence on subsequent pastoral letters coming from the U.S. bishops over the next generation.
EXCERPTS FROM THE PASTORAL LETTER
"This Land is Home to Me" begins with this opening call:
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.
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 that come with it. Many of these kings don't live in the region. ...
The way of life that 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. ...
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
– old age,
– and illness. ...
Worse still, swallowing us up in things is the power of the idol which eats away at our openness to the Living God. ...
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.
It references past U.S. bishops' letters as well as papal encyclicals emphasizing economic balance and social justice, including Pope Leo XIII's 1891 letter "Rerum Novarum" ("On the Condition of the Working Classes") and the writings of Vatican II.
It advocates for "action centers" to be set up throughout Appalachia to welcome the poor, share resources, build grass-roots efforts, and gather together in prayer.
And the pastoral letter concludes:
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 ... 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.
ITS CONTINUING INFLUENCE
"This Land is Home to Me" remains a North Star that guides bishops in the Appalachian region today.
In 2010, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston referenced "This Land is Home to Me" in a pastoral letter he promulgated regarding coal mine safety. "On My Holy Mountain" called attention to mine safety in the wake of mine disasters including the April 5, 2010, explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 miners.
In addition to its historical significance in form, style and substance, "This Land is Home to Me" spurred a follow-up pastoral letter in 1995 entitled "'At Home in the Web of Life: A Pastoral Message on Sustainable Communities in Appalachia" by the Appalachian bishops and the CCA. In it, the bishops advocated the creation and defense of sustainable communities in Appalachia through responsible stewardship of the land and its resources – the most important being its people.
Closer to home, the 1975 letter had a tangible impact.
In 1997, then Bishop William G. Curlin and then Raleigh Bishop F. Joseph Gossman published the pastoral letter "Of One Heart and One Mind," highlighting disparities in economic opportunities in the state. That spurred the Charlotte diocese to commission a study of the needs and assets of its far western region, and, in response to those results, the diocese founded the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) within Catholic Social Services in 1999.
One year later, in 2000, Bishop Curlin opened the Bishop Begley Center for Economic Development in Murphy – the main base of operations for OEO, which spans the Appalachian counties of Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Swain. For the past nine years, OEO has hosted a biennial conference to continue the dialogue about how to improve the lives of the people in Appalachia. Aptly named the Bishop Begley Conference on Appalachia, this year's fifth conference will focus on "supporting rural economic growth in far western North Carolina through sustainable agriculture," and will be held Friday, March 23, in Cherokee.
OEO also funds "Growing Opportunities Grants" to support local non-profit organizations and community groups in these four far western rural counties of North Carolina. Over the past 11 years, OEO has awarded more than $220,000 to empower people, create jobs and support community development.
On the 35th anniversary of the historic pastoral letter, the newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling, W.Va., "The Catholic Spirit" reported that it "still has a profound effect..."
Monsignor Frederick P. Annie, vicar general of the diocese, stated, "It has helped many of the people who live in Appalachia to grow in their appreciation and their pride in who they are as a people and what their history is, and for them to acknowledge the richness of their tradition and their struggle."
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Diocese of Charlotte was founded on Jan. 12, 1972. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the diocese and the history of the Church in western North Carolina, we are publishing a year-long series spotlighting the people who built up the Church, the major developments over the past 40 years, and what changes could be in store for the future.
The 1975 pastoral letter "This Land is Home to Me" is online at: www.catholicconferencewv.org/pdf/ThisLandIsHome.pdf.
Learn more about the Office of Economic Opportunity at www.cssnc.org/oeo.
New Redemptorist parochial vicar joins Concord, Kannapolis parishesCONCORD — Redemptorist Father Aldrin Christopher Roswell Nunes has been appointed parochial vicar at St. James the Greater Church in Concord, effective April 23, Bishop Peter J. Jugis recently announced. Father Nunes will serve both St. James...
Renewing roots in charityLearn about the new Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Since 2005 we have celebrated Catholic Social Services Week. Each year this week provides an opportunity for our parishioners to become more...
Charlotte seminarians graduate from Pontifical College JosephinumCOLUMBUS, Ohio — The second Saturday of May was a joyful day at the Pontifical College Josephinum, as the only pontifical seminary outside of Italy held its 114th baccalaureate Mass and commencement exercises. Diocese of Charlotte seminarians...
Photos: Honoring Mary, the Mother of GodWINSTON-SALEM — Students at St. Leo School in Winston-Salem celebrated Mary with a May crowning on May 10. (Photo provided by Donna Birkel) GREENSBORO — Our Lady...
Mecklenburg County Bar honors diocesan attorneyLucey recognized for distinguished service to families CHARLOTTE — It's hard to surprise a seasoned attorney, but the Mecklenburg County Bar managed to pull off an unexpected award presentation for Diocese of Charlotte attorney Richard Lucey...
Monroe pastor leads pilgrimage to National Shrine of St. DymphnaMONROE — On a blustery day in March, Father Benjamin Roberts made good on a promise made to St. Dymphna more than 14 years ago. Father Roberts, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Monroe, boarded a charter bus with 52 pilgrims from North...
PHOTO GALLERY: Crowning Mary during Family Rosary ProcessionCHARLOTTE — Patricia Jane (P.J.) Pickhardt crowns a statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the Family Rosary Procession sponsored by the Charlotte Catholic Women's Group on May 3 at St. Ann Church. Pickhardt, a parishioner at St. Ann Church,...
Charlotte food pantry gets refrigeratorsCHARLOTTE — Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte's food pantry in Charlotte now offers perishable goods to clients, thanks to several refrigerators that were recently set up in the pantry at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Charlotte. Catholic...
Asheville parishioners honor Father Thomas on his 40th anniversary as priestASHEVILLE — Member of Asheville's historic St. Lawrence Basilica filled the church's Laurentine Hall recently to honor their pastor, Father Wilbur Thomas, on his 40th anniversary as a priest. Pictured: Father Wilbur Thomas, pastor and rector...
Holy Cross in Kernersville responds to call for life, liberty and marriageKERNERSVILLE — Parishioners at Holy Cross Church in Kernersville have been active in the U.S. bishops' campaign "Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty" that began earlier this year. The campaign launched by the U.S. Conference...
Consecration to the Sacred HeartHUNTERSVILLE — Latino Catholics gathered at St. Mark Church in Huntersville on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, for consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through Mary. A similar gathering was held on Dec, 8, the Feast of the Immaculate...
St. John of Avila, diocesan priest, graces Our Lady of Lourdes ChapelMONROE — Thanks to an anonymous donor and the work of a talented North Carolina artist, parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes Church have an original commissioned image of St. John of Avila in the Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel. Father Benjamin...
Sacraments celebrated at St. Elizabeth of the Hill CountryBOONE — On May 1, 22 young adults at the parish received the sacrament of confirmation during Mass at St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country Church in Boone celebrated by Bishop Peter J. Jugis. Eight children received their first Holy Communion...
Bishop Morneau: 'Gratitude is the key to good stewardship'CONCORD — Gratitude is the key to good stewardship. That was the message from Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Morneau of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., to more than 225 stewardship leaders from the Carolinas and Georgia who gathered in Concord...
MOST POPULAR STORIES
- PHOTO GALLERY: Celebrating different cultures at Pentecost
- LATROBE: Charlotte's troubled abortion clinic
- Selfishness is a downer, proclaiming Christ brings joy, pope says
- Monroe pastor leads pilgrimage to National Shrine of St. Dymphna
- Tornadoes exact deadly toll in Oklahoma; area needs 'a lot of prayers'
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy