Priests

'This Land is Home to Me.'

Jesuit priest Joseph R. Hacala, 61, former special assistant to the secretary of the Department of Health and Urban Development during the Clinton administration, died of a rare organ disease in February while receiving care at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Hacala, a West Virginia native, had served most recently as the president of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. Hacala's first mission after his ordination in 1975 was to the poverty-stricken coal fields of southern West Virginia. A fierce commitment to the poor and to social justice shaped his ministry throughout his life.

Prior to his work at HUD, Hacala was executive director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and director of the National Office of Jesuit Social Ministries, and he served pastorally at St. Aloysius Church in Washington, D.C. He was profoundly impacted by the Appalachian Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter, "This Land is Home to Me," issued in February 1975, which declares, "The living God, the Lord whom we worship, is the God of the poor."

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Sojourners Magazine June 2007
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A Dangerous Discipleship

"Whenever people discover that they have rights, they have the responsibility to claim them."—John XXIII, "Pacem in Terris"

Up at the top of a Mexican mountain, up beyond miles of rutted road and wet, flowing clay, I toured an Indian village that was visited by a priest only once a year. That was years ago. Now the mountain is just as high but the priest is 15 years older.

Five years ago I spoke in an American parish of 6,000 families—a "mega-church" that is served by three priests. There is no priest shortage there, however, the priests want you to know, because the bishop has redefined the optimum priest-to-people ratio from 1-to-every-250 families to 1-priest-to-every-2,000 families.

In diocese after diocese, Catholic parishes are being merged, closed, or served by retired priests or married male deacons designed to keep the church male, whether it is ministering or not. The number of priests is declining, the number of Catholics is increasing, and the number of lay ministers being certified is rising in every academic system despite the fact that their services are being rejected.

Clearly, the Catholic Church is changing even while it reasserts its changelessness. But static resistance is a far cry from the dynamism of the early church. Prisca, Lydia, Thecla, Phoebe, and hundreds of women like them opened house churches, walked as disciples of Paul, "constrained him," the scripture says, to serve a given region, instructed people in the faith, and ministered to the fledgling Christian communities with no apology, no argument, and no tricky theological shell games about whether they were ministering in persona Christi or in nomini Christi.

So what is to be done at a time like this, when what is being sought and what is possible are two different things? To what are we to give our energy when we are told no energy is wanted?

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2002
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