BEAR CREEK — Farmers and others who live in rural communities better understand the harmony between nature and humanity, Bishop David Ricken told a crowded assembly at St. Mary Church April 7.
During his homily at the annual Rural Life Days Mass, Bishop Ricken also reminded farmers that they are entrusted by God to be good stewards of creation. The annual Mass, held each spring in anticipation of the upcoming farming season, began with a procession featuring area parish representatives carrying banners decorated with rural life scenes.
The Rural Life Days Mass in Bear Creek was the second of two gatherings sponsored by the Diocese of Green Bay and the diocesan Rural Life Committee. The annual spring events, which include a lunch and guest speaker, mark the beginning of a new planting season. They are partially funded through donations to the annual Bishop’s Appeal.
The first Mass was held at St. Isidore the Farmer Church in Tisch Mills on April 6 and was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau. Fr. Tony Birdsall, a senior priest of the diocese and former diocesan director of the Catholic Rural Life Conference, served as speaker at both gatherings. His presentation was titled “Blessing and Values of Rural Life: Revealing the Hidden Treasure of the Lord.”
Joining Bishop Ricken and Fr. Birdsall at the Bear Creek Mass were Fr. Jack Mullarkey, priest celebrant of St. Mary Parish; Fr. Walter Stumpf, pastor of St. Nicholas Parish in Freedom and St. Edward Parish in Mackville; and senior priest Fr. John Hephner. Also assisting at the Mass were Deacons Lincoln Wood and Paul Brulla.
“We are connected to creation and we are entrusted to good stewardship of creation that God has given us,” Bishop Ricken told the gathering. He shared a story about yearly visits to his paternal grandparents’ farm in La Junta, Colo., and helping with farm chores. “Our memories as children, your memories of growing up on a farm, are so important,” he said. “They teach us how much God loves us, how much he provides for all of our needs.”
Bishop Ricken spoke about Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,’” and its promotion of rural life.
“The major points that he makes are so applicable to farming and rural life,” said Bishop Ricken. “The document resonates with those living in rural areas, those who live and work closest to God’s creation. Rural people are uniquely situated at the heart of the relationship between man and creation and Pope Francis speaks of this in his encyclical.”
While the encyclical discusses climate change, said Bishop Ricken, “this document is also about water, soil and air pollution. It’s about agriculture and technologies that are not necessarily delivering a more sustainable environment. … It’s also a deeply spiritual letter, speaking about the need for an ecological conversion. … It’s grounded in the teachings of the church.”
Bishop Ricken thanked all of the farmers for their hard work and care for creation.
“I pray for each one of you, that God may continue to bless you, that you find better ways to care for creation and that you find ways to share the abundant wealth that you’ve been given,” he said. He urged them to continue promoting the “good works of the church, through Catholic Charities, through caring for your parish, caring of your families. Most especially, that families can really be households of discipleship and love, with a connection to Jesus.”
Following Communion, Bishop Ricken blessed seeds and soil that were brought by farmers and placed on a table in the sanctuary. After Mass, the bishop led the congregation outside the church, where he blessed a variety of farm animals, including two cows, two alpacas and two donkeys, and a convoy of tractors and other farm implements that were driven past the church.
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