NEWTON — While this year’s Rural Life Days Mass, held April 7 at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, focused on prayers for a successful year of farming, those gathered also prayed for victims of war in Ukraine.
Prior to the opening procession, David Bourgeois, a retired music teacher in the Manitowoc Public School District, sang the Ukrainian national anthem, followed by the Star-Spangled Banner.
During his homily, Bishop David Ricken acknowledged Bourgeois’ tribute to Ukraine and offered his own words of hope.
“That Ukrainian anthem really is moving,” he said. “I’ve listened to it on radio and TV, but to hear it live really brings home our solidarity with those who are suffering so much in Ukraine.”
Bishop Ricken said that, as a human family, “we are brothers and sisters in Christ. … So our hearts go out for all those in Ukraine who are being victimized by the aggression of (Russia), which seems to have no end to blood thirst.”
He also said it is important to pray for the Russian people. “We pray for those who persecute us, as Jesus asked us to do,” he said. “We don’t want to see their destruction, but we want to see their conversion and to know that they, too, are loved and should change.”
His message to farm families attending the Mass was to let them know “I am here to thank God with you” and “to thank God for you.”
“I know that you are so dependent upon Mother Nature. Upon all the gifts and blessings of God,” he said. “You are very much in close contact with that, far closer than I am. I get to see and hear the weather reports. You have to live by what kind of weather is coming.”
Bishop Ricken said farmers “should have about three or four doctorate degrees just to run a farm.”
“I mean, of all the things that have to go into a decision that you make, that is incredible,” he said. “I know that God helps you with that, and the Holy Spirit inspires you and gives you ideas. … So I thank God with you for all of his blessings, all of the wisdom he gives you and all of the constant ways you never give up.”
With all of the challenges placed before farmers, said Bishop Ricken, “It must be tempting, at times (to give up), but compare us and our challenges with what’s going on in Ukraine right now. I don’t know about you, but that moves me to quickly stop whining and pray for them. Let’s put our hands to the plow and keep moving forward and think of our brothers and sisters around the world and our neighbors who are suffering.”
Bishop Ricken said that he gives thanks to God for farmers for all they do. “I thank God for you because you are the ones who feed America and so many other countries,” he said. “And Ukraine was, too. It’s a breadbasket for much of the world, too. Without you farmers doing your hard work, the rest of us would not be eating, so I thank God for you. … I hope you feel, during this Mass, the presence of the Holy Spirit pouring into you. And the gratitude I am expressing to you is not just my own, it’s the gratitude of all the people in this diocese, and all of the people who benefit by the work of your hands on your farms. So thank you and may God bless you today.”
Following Communion, Bishop Ricken led the assembly in a Litany of St. Isidore, patron of farmers.
“Grant, O Lord, that through the intercession of Blessed Isidore and Maria, the farmers, we may follow their example of patience and humility. May we walk faithfully in their footsteps, so that in the evening of life we may be able to present to you an abundant harvest of merit and good works,” he prayed.
After Mass, Bishop Ricken stopped between two tables in the church gathering area, where seeds, soil and plants brought by farmers were blessed. Following the blessing, the assembly walked outside for a blessing of animals and farm implements.
The day concluded with lunch and a presentation featuring Cory Geiger, a member of Holy Family Parish in Brillion. Geiger is author of “On a Wisconsin Family Farm: Historic Tales of Character, Community and Culture.”