National Catholic Rural Life Office

may open local branch

By David Myers

The nearly moisture-free winter southwest Kansas has experienced stands as an ominous reminder of what farmers across the state contend with on a regular basis -- unrepentive weather patterns that can doom an entire season of hard work.

    And when combined with economic turmoil, the two can create particularly hard times for our nation’s growers.
    Soon, Kansas farmers may have a local advocate, one that is based in Church doctrine and established to help farmers by being a voice in times of natural and economic turmoil, by providing a place for them to turn for guidance, and by shining a beacon on the importance of the family farmer.
    Jim Ennis, Executive Director of the National Catholic Rural Life office, spoke with a group of farmers and community leaders in Salina Feb. 28 to explore the possibility of establishing a Kansas Catholic Rural Life office.
    “We want to strengthen our relationship with rural dioceses around the country,” Ennis told the Register from his hotel room in Washington, D.C., where he was speaking at a conference. “In the past, there have been rural life directors in many dioceses across the country. What’s happened is that over time, dioceses have had to consolidate and had to have their social justice director take on the rural life role as well. In many dioceses they are cutting back staff.”
    The result has been that many rural dioceses, including Dodge City, are left without any type of rural life office – without any representative who is designated entirely to deal with the difficulties facing the family farmer.
    “The national office wants to network its support with rural life commissions around the country,” Ennis said. “We want to support Kansas in whatever way we can.”
    Father Allen Scheer, pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina, is strongly involved with the Salina diocese’s Catholic Rural Life Commission.  
    “A local office could offer the benefit of working with the people of all the dioceses, keeping on top of issues that face the Catholics in the dioceses about rural faith issues and help promote parish life --rural life…,” he said.
    “Rural issues are important to the people of all the Catholic dioceses in Kansas,“ he added. “Hopefully they are being addressed in some manner. I’m not sure if a Kansas Catholic Rural Life Office is needed, but some avenue to address the rural life issues [is needed].”
    Father Scheer said that a Kansas Catholic Rural Life Office would benefit “a large group of people because it deals with issues of faith and agriculture, and all Catholic people of our dioceses are connected with these areas. It may be dealing with food issues, current agriculture issues, or issues in the faith lives of the people in rural areas and throughout the dioceses.”
    The Salina diocese’s Catholic Rural Life Commission’s focus is to “promote the stewardship of our land and resources through a faith perspective,”  Father Scheer said. “We do this by recognizing farm families who have operated their land for 100 years or more, encouraging activities celebrating St. Isidore Day, and holding informational meetings with speakers or panel discussions on a variety of issues.
    “The statewide organization may have many of the same goals or activities, but could be offered on a state level beyond the Salina Diocese.”
    Larned farmers Tom and Sheryl Giessel sometimes travel to Salina to attend the Rural Life Commission meetings.
    Tom Giessel suggested that a Kansas Catholic Rural Life Office might include the following topics, among many others.
    “Focus on local activity,” he said. “Organizations are most effective when individuals have the opportunity to speak out and relate things to what is happening at ‘home.’
“...Try to plan a local activity -- blessing of soils, seeds and crops.
 “Gather oral histories about the community and/or parish as it relates to our culture.
 “Develop educational opportunities -- share culture and arts such as braiding of palms and other things us old guys remember,” he added.
 “Create more community gardens with teaching about food (all aspects -- spiritual, cultural, historical...).”
    He also said that the office would be a place that would include frank discussion about the future.
    More information on the possible formation of a Kansas Catholic Rural Life Office will be included in a future edition of the SKR.