The Journey to Justice  

by Fr. John Rausch

          Large tubs holding herb plants like Echinacea, Goldenseal and Black Cohash lined the railing of the porch where two dozen folks gathered to hear the story of the Mountain Tradition Herb Co-op. Linda spoke animatedly about selling Appalachian herbs domestically and to the Far East. She explained that historically mountain people gathered herbs for food and medicine and now in that tradition the co-op was offering its 25 members the hope of staying on their family land and earning a living.

              Funded in part by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the co-op models sustainable development by making partners of economics and the environment. It plans eventually to develop value added products like tinctures and teas. That afternoon the visitors journeyed over dirt roads in eastern Kentucky to learn how an herb co-op was addressing some of the root causes of poverty.

CCHD has initiated an immersion program, now operating in 35 dioceses, to help Catholic parishioners journey from charity to justice. "Journey to Justice" brings two dozen parishioners together for an intense weekend to reflect on Scripture and the social teachings of the church. The core of the experience focuses on visiting a community group funded by CCHD and hearing the stories of the people in the context of social analysis and Gospel values.

          During the Mountain Tradition visit Linda stressed that the only jobs available in Leslie County related to extractive industries like strip-mining and clear-cut logging. Corporations own large tracts of land, giving them control over the local economy. In order to stay on the land that her family occupied for three generations, Linda’s daughter works in Florida half the year, sending money home. Linda hopes marketing herbs will offer her family a secure livelihood in the future.

        Damon spoke passionately about the abuses of strip-mining in his community. A short distance from his porch in clear view a mountain top removal operation threatens to reduce the verdant mountain to a barren moonscape. Frequently mining laws go un-enforced and whole communities suffer the environmental damage. Local folks have little recourse. Strip-mining, like clear-cut logging, destroys the forest. And without the tree cover of the forest many herbs can never grow.

         Charlie, another co-op member, spoke about the plight of the tobacco farmer. Having lost 80 percent of his farm income in recent years as tobacco companies switched to foreign growers, he looks to cultivating herbs as an alternative crop. Each story drew clearer lines for a picture about how people are facing obstacles to a fuller life.

         The social teachings of the church offer believers a perch to view the dynamics of society. The church’s preferential option for the poor does not mean class warfare, but a perspective and vision. The option for the poor asks believers to view society through the eyes of the disadvantaged and walk in the shoes of the oppressed. Rather than believing the slick explanations from a public relations department, an option for the poor listens intently to the stories from the people adversely affected in society. For the folks at Mountain Tradition that means appreciating their limited choices, the power of the mining companies and the forces of the global economy.

        The program, Journey to Justice, offers parishioners an opportunity to read and reflect about Gospel values. More than that, it introduces them to local people struggling for a decent life and then invites them to join the journey.

Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches at the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Berea, Ky.   His column appears monthly in many Catholic journals and in ours courtesy of the Friends of the Good News.  Join the Friends of the Good News and help spread the Gospel.
Read other articles of Spiritual Enlightenment in the June 2000 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.