The 11 counties of the Diocese of Madison are rural and the few communities in areas defined as urban are dramatically affected by the success or the failure of farming communities. The diocesan Church seeks to provide some relief from the financial downturn through its partnership with Catholic Charities and its Rural Life Office, which opened on July 1, 2009.
A partnership connection between the (former diocesan) Rural Life Office and Catholic Charities of Madison was already in place from the collaborative work done to support families who suffered through the record shattering floods of 2008.
Catholic Charities President Brian Cain embraced the additional challenge to serve rural people and rural parish communities and their pastors. He said, “Catholic Charities expanded its rural outreach more than three years ago with the Parish Mobile Food Pantries. The disaster relief work we did with the diocese made us even more aware of the need for services in the rural areas. We believe we can help and are anxious to get started!”
In the fall of 2009, the Rural Life Office conducted 13 “All Shall Eat” Rural Listening Sessions across the diocese to collect the direct concerns and needs of the area farmers and community members who depend on the farming economy.
Rural pastors provided valuable information and networking as well as hospitality at all the listening sessions because they as parish priests know only too well the sense of hopelessness and despair of those suffering in their parish communities. The priest knows that when families struggle, so goes the parish family. The listening sessions offered them a chance to hear the concerns along with the Rural Life Office of Catholic Charities.
With less dollars available for farm families and greater costs of the farming operation, many families have no ability to access basic healthcare services, pay utility and heating bills, find affordable childcare, or even put food on their own kitchen table.
Lack of area social services due to the financial shriveling of government infrastructure has compounded community concerns for those who are in such sadness that they begin to abuse alcohol or drugs, impacting all family members and all ages. The risk of suicide also increases as people are mired in hopelessness.
Imagine working a minimum of 12 hours a day, in all seasons and weather, producing a product that every single human being needs to live and going broke doing it.
Dairy farmers across our region have suffered through 2009 with the historically lowest milk prices on record, while escalating feed costs are forcing many to purchase food for their animals by credit cards, at 29 percent revolving debt. Swine farmers have been deeply impacted by the misnaming of the H1N1 influenza. Farmers harvesting crops have experienced falling prices that will not make up for the cost of planting.
Facing challenges with faith
But we are a people of hope. In surviving these times, we need each other more than ever and we need the reassurance of our faith to strengthen us in facing our challenges.
Through Christ, all things are possible. And so it is a time to look forward to how the Rural Life Office can assist rural pastors, parishes, and the hardworking rural community members who feed us all through their daily labor in the fields.
Partnerships are being explored and encouraged with a variety of faith-based social service agencies such as the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Project Recovery of Lutheran Social Services, and the Christian Community of Madison’s “Harvest of Hope” Farm Crisis Fund; local and state agencies such as the Wisconsin Farm Center, the University of Wisconsin County Extension Offices, and local community coalitions; as well as current partners of Catholic Charities such as Second Harvest.
Partnerships are focusing on potential service delivery directed to several areas that surfaced during the listening sessions, including healthcare accessibility and education, support of local food networks to build a greater understanding of the need to buy locally, substance abuse treatment, and counseling services.
A need to educate and focus outreach efforts encourages us to seek relationships with our lay organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and Councils of Catholic Women and other Catholic outreach organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul conferences and councils.
Support of parishes, people
Our greatest partnership opportunity comes from working directly with the people of our parishes and rural communities across the Diocese of Madison. Without your assistance as volunteers and advocates, without your prayers and donations of support, our rural life outreach arm would wither and die.
It is through the strength and perseverance we receive through our Creator that each of us as very limited individuals can unite with the greater community body in offering compassionate service outside ourselves.
During this Lenten season, may we pray on how we embrace all who are in need and ask for God’s grace that we have the strength to act as missionaries of the Gospel.
Find out more about the Rural Life Office and the listening sessions on the Web at www.ccmadison.org