Religious Community
9:53 am
Mon April 21, 2014

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia Develops Its Third Pastoral Letter

Michael Iafrate, center, walks with his daughter Hazel during a coal miner rally in Charleston, W. Va. Iafrate is a doctoral student of theology from Wheeling. He is a board member of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia and the chair of the pastoral committee. Iafrate will also be the lead author of the third pastoral letter, which will likely be published in 2015. (Photo courtesy Michael Iafrate)

A Wheeling native who is a doctoral student studying Liberation theology will be the lead author of a new Pastoral letter in the works.

The Catholic Committee of Appalachia is a network of faith-based people with a mission to “raise a prophetic voice for Appalachia and her people.” It was born as an offshoot of Appalachian ecumenical efforts in the 1970s which were engaged in the then-declared War on Poverty. Since then the Catholic Committee of Appalachia has been concerned with social and environmental justice, issues such as mountaintop removal, labor, private prison development, community sustainability, poverty, health, clean water, racism, and climate change.

Perhaps most notably, the committee published a couple of Appalachian Bishops’ pastoral letters.

A Pastoral Letter is an open letter addressed by a Bishop to Catholic clergy, laity and all people of good will.  Pastorals generally contain instruction, consolation, or directions for behavior in particular circumstances.

The first one in 1975 was entitled, “This Land is Home to Me: A Pastoral Letter on the Poverty and Powerlessness in Appalachia,” the second published in 1995 is entitled, “At Home in the Web of Life: A Pastoral Message on Sustainable Communities in Appalachia.”

According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, "'This Land is Home to Me’ is recognized to be 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 are in circulation, and it has been translated into several languages.”

The Catholic Committee is reaching out broadly for insights into today’s Appalachian condition with online tools, including a survey that asks these questions:

  • What is your story of struggle?
  • How would things be different if you had no fear or obstacles?
  • Where is there hope in your situation right now?
  • What can we do together, and what bigger changes are needed, to bring about what looks promising?
  • More Wisdom…