US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Take a social justice roadtrip through the hills of Appalachia

By Father John Rausch | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Article Justice

As a Glenmary priest, I’ve lived in Appalachia for 40 years. I’ve found that understanding social justice issues concerning the area and its people demands real-life experiences. Stereotypical images of shoeless kids with dirty faces and torn T-shirts live on beyond the passing of LIFE magazine from a half century ago. The story of Appalachia defies a single photo or story. For those serious about encountering the spirit of the mountains, I simply tell them, “Get in the van, and I’ll take you around.”

Each year I conduct what I call the “pilgrimage to the holy land of Appalachia.” It’s not simply a tour. I use the word pilgrimage, which usually entails a journey to a sacred shrine or sanctuary for a religious motive. Our pilgrimage, perhaps a more contemporary expression, travels through the garden of Appalachia as our sanctuary and encounters the culture of eastern Kentucky as our meditation. The experience affirms local folks by listening to their stories and hearing their struggles.

Over the years, I have designed special pilgrimages for seminarians, deacons, parishes, and ecumenical faith groups. This year’s three-day pilgrimage offered participants a glimpse into three vital sectors of contemporary Appalachia: health care, economic development, and the environment.

Below are a small selection of the photos from this year's trip.


This is an excerpt from Father John Rausch's essay "Off the beaten path." The full version of the essay appeared in the April 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 80, No. 4, pages 28-32). Click here for subscription information.  

Main image courtesy of Frank Lesko