Word One

Sermon on the Mountains

As director of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, Father John Rausch has been leading tours of southeastern Kentucky where coal mining operations continue to rip off mountain tops.

“The whole idea is to make people angry about what they see,” he told Mother Jones. “That way maybe they’ll go out and do something.”

Father Rausch launches the tours from the rectory of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Hazard, Kentucky. Each of his “tourists” receives a pamphlet he wrote on “the care of creation,” which includes quotes from Pope John Paul II on the obligation to protect the environment, “a part of the church’s teaching that’s often overlooked.”

After sharing the roads with 60-ton coal trucks spewing coal dust to get close-up views of the mining devastation, the group returns to Hazard’s airport and climbs into a small plane for an aerial view.

“The sprawling expanse of rust-colored scars is precisely the sort of jaw-dropping sight that Rausch hopes will motivate visitors to think beyond coal,” Mother Jones said.

Father Rausch, who has also served in Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, and South Africa, asks: “Why not turn southeastern Kentucky into a center for developing alternative energy? That would provide some of the economic opportunities that people here need.”

The long-time environmental crusade Father Rausch has launched in Appalachia has not been welcomed by everyone. At one church he was asked not to return after a guest sermon annoyed a coal company executive in the congregation.

This article appeared in the October 2006 (Volume 34, Number 4) issue of Word One.

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