The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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April 13, 2001 Issue
Local News

Call to cultivate community

Rural Life Days explore contemporary, traditional values of farm life

By Joanne Flemming
Compass Correspondent

CHILTON - Farm families in the Green Bay Diocese on Rural Life Days - April 3 and 4 at Gresham and Chilton - looked at their vocation as both a traditional and a contemporary way of life.

Sr. Geraldine Hoye, one of two Dominican sisters who spoke at the observances, told the 300 people at the Rural Life dinner at St. Mary Church in Chilton that farming "is a contemporary way of living that cares for the land, that cares for the community, that cares for the faith.... (It) has the power to integrate values that are dynamic in today's living."

She added that "there are many people who would not be able to do what you do."

Half of America's parishes are in rural areas and small towns, said Sr. Hoye. She and Sr. Georgia Acker, the other speaker, began working together in rural parishes in Mississippi.

Because less than 2% of Mississippi is Catholic, Sr. Acker said, its rural parishes are often isolated with as few as 12 members, no professional staff and monthly Mass.

In 1999, the two women started Dominican Pathfinder Ministries for rural parishes, based in Bowling Green, Ky., to work among tobacco farmers in one Tennessee and two Kentucky dioceses.

Sr. Hoye said each parish they work with "has a culture and history that is very rich and life-giving ... because of the people who make up those parishes."

She and Sr. Acker said the parishioners were like "extended family. They knew the pastor.... They knew one another. They were very proud of their past, but also had a vision of what would happen in the future.

"Much of who we are and much of what we become depends on how we look at our own faith journey.... We are all on this journey," Sr. Hoye said. "Along the way, some run into real difficult times. We are all looking for a place where we can be who we are, where people will understand, where people will come together. That's what community means."

Sr. Acker said the Christian heritage is about relationships with God, family, friends, community, parish, state, nation, and planet.

"As Christians, we know that all creation belongs only to God. As humans, we are stewards of God's creation. As stewards, we always strive to live in right relationships with God and all creation," she said.

That means following God's precepts - living peacefully and acting with justice and mercy, Sr. Acker said.

However, she added, relationships today "are out of whack" and the "pursuit of greed" is one reason.

Other reasons, said Sr. Hoye, are "anything in our lives that keeps us from being steadfast and almost passionate in our efforts to bring about peace and healing and reconciliation within ourselves and with others."

This is a time "to look into our own hearts ... at things we need to change," she said.

Sr. Hoye offered several suggestions for making those changes:

-- Love God more than you fear hell.

-- Make major decisions in a cemetery.

-- When no one is watching you, live as if someone is.

-- Never outgrow your love of sunsets.

-- When you can't take God's hand, trust his heart.

-- The Book of Life is written in chapters. Be sure you know what page you are on.

-- Live your liturgy.

Bp. Robert Banks presided at the Rural Life Mass in Gresham and Auxiliary Bp. Robert Morneau presided at the Chilton Mass. They also blessed seeds, animals and machinery.

During his homily, Bp. Morneau listed the four hallmarks of a good steward - receiving God's gifts gratefully, nurturing God's gifts responsibly, sharing those gifts justly and charitably and returning those gifts abundantly.

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