Appalachian activist honored with peace award

You know Father John Rausch is committed to social justice when even his answering machine message ends with, "God bless, and let's continue to work for justice."

Rausch, a Glenmary priest, outspoken defender of the environment, and advocate for the poor in Appalachia, is being honored for his social justice work with the 2007 Teacher of Peace Award from Pax Christi, the national Catholic peace organization.

Known for his long-term commitment to causes and his dogged persistence, Rausch started out helping poor families in rural Appalachia. He now coordinates the Diocese of Lexington Kentucky's Commission for Peace and Justice, leads study tours of Appalachia, and writes a syndicated column that appears in more than 20 Catholic newspapers around the country. In the week before the award presentation, he visited a death row inmate about to be executed in Kentucky, gave a talk at a Prebyterian seminary on the destructiveness of mountaintop removal mining, and prepared a speech on the "fringe economy" to be given in Louisiana.

"I'm all over the lot," he says. "There are just so many issues." How to choose and not get overwhelmed? Rausch advises would-be activists to listen to their hearts. "If you're interested in children, then work for children's issues. The Holy Spirit will lead you. You just take a little toe hold and take it from there."

His other advice on how to avoid burnout includes making time for prayer, celebrating small victories, and working in community. "There is no such thing as a lone ranger," he says. "The only way we can do this work is in community. That's what the church is."

It also helps to keep a sense of humor. "I compare it to baseball. It's the bottom of the ninth inning, you're losing 217 to one, there are two outs and two strikes. The only good thing is you're still at bat."

The Teacher of Peace Award, first given to Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day in 1978, will be presented to Rausch at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at Trinity University in Washington D.C. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne will be the keynote speaker at the event. Click here for more information.

--Heidi Schlumpf

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