Planned for release in 2015, the People’s Pastoral will reflect the cries of the poor and the earth, said Schmidt, a Glenmary Home Missioner and native Virginian who has dedicated himself to a “listening ministry” among Appalachia’s poor since the early 1960s.
“The Lord hears their cry, but can we?” he asked.
Currently working on criminal justice reform around the issue of for-profit prisons, Schmidt hopes that the latest letter “will spark dialogue between those on the margins and the suffering earth, with church folks and all folks of good will.”
If bishops want to chime in with their reflections, that will be fine, too, he said. “Every voice has been invited and welcomed as long as they stand in solidarity with the poor and the earth.”
The final product, the Glenmary priest said, will be a “by-the-people, for-the-people document” with an invitation for the church to respond.
Other members of the People’s Pastoral committee include Davies and Jeannie Kirkhope, the committee’s administrative director. They have recruited volunteers from a broad Appalachian base — parishes, congregations, intentional communities, social and environmental organizations — to assist in the preliminary information gathering process.
Volunteers are conducting face-to-face listening sessions in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and other parts of Appalachia. They seek to draw out the softest of voices — people suffering from the environmental ravages of coal mining, hydraulic fracturing, mountaintop removal, chemical spills and compromised water quality, in addition to immigrants, Native Americans, the gay and transgender community, and families caught in the tragedy of abuse and drug addiction.