Category Archives: Ruhaak

Reflection on the Pilgrimage to the Mountains of West Virginia


Pilgrims listen to Maria Gunnoe, a local activist against Mountain Top Removal

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.” (Mt 5:6)


A delegation from our diocese recently journeyed to West Virginia in Appalachia. The seeds for such a trip were planted over a year before when Sr. Robbie Pentecost, chair of the Catholic Committee on Appalachia, spoke in the Joliet Diocese about “Mountain Top Removal Mining.”


Carol Warren, Director of the Justice and Life Ministry Office of the Charleston, West Virginia Diocese, arranged meetings with leaders in coal industry, unions, local grassroots organization, church leaders, as well as those living where the mountain top removal continues to harm them and their environment. Each story we listened to immersed the group further into the reality of death and destruction, and of the resourceful, wise, loving, persevering persons working every day to end mountain top removal, despite overwhelming odds, relentless anger and deep, deep pain.


The level of courage and commitment evident in the grassroots leaders was remarkable. Rev. Larry Brown, pastor of Rawl Church of God in Jesus Name stands in the forefront in advocating for safe water for the people of the community there. Other pastors are reluctant to publicly appear with him. Water from the nearby well contains mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium, chromium, cadmium, and boron and fifty-three other toxins. The contaminated water has caused children and adults to lose their teeth, to contract pancreatic and other cancers, stomach and digestic tract disorders, auto-immune liver disease, osteoporosis, rashes and boils. The clergyman is the object of a lawsuit initiated by the owner of the coal company who says he has defamed his character and ruined his good name.


Because of a pending lawsuit against the coal company, Pastor Brown distributes bottled water to those named in the suit. However, some residents, afraid of countering the coal company, are not named in the suit, and therefore cannot receive any of that water. Fortunately, Larry’s lawyer donated water for the other residents. However, neither the residents named or unamed in the suit receive enough water for bathing, so the toxins still penetrate their pores. (Monetary donations to assist the people of Mingo County may be sent to : Rev. Larry & Brenda Brown, c/o Church of God in Jesus Name, P. O. Box 185, Rawl, W. Virginia 25691).


Maria Gunnoe, a resident of Bob White in Boone County, has opposed “Mountain Top Removal Mining” for the past six years. Since that time she has lost two access bridges, the use of her water, five acres of land and the ability to grow and harvest nuts, fruits, and vegetables as she did in the past. Further, she has endured severe damage to her home and property because of explosions and flooding, and seen her children harassed (because of her advocacy), her family breathe in dust and toxic gases from the mountain top explosions, had sand put into her truck’s gas tank, and two of the family’s dogs shot dead. Maria wrote, “I went from crying-sobbing-to being very mad. This was three years ago, and I’m still mad. And honestly, I’m a little madder than I was then because I realize how many tentacles this evil has.”


When she spoke to us at Kayford Mountain, the site of one of the largest “Mountain Top Removal”areas, I looked into her pain-filled eyes and asked her how she copes. Ms. Gunnoe replied, “I think of my children and their future. You don’t give up on that and walk away.” Maria remarked that her Cherokee ancestors hid in the Appalachian mountains many years ago, avoiding the US government, and now they have found her family and want to take the land from them once again.


We also met Charles and Chuck, two former union coal miners. Charles spoke of how much he loved coal mining. He worked for Bethlehem Coal Company until it was bought out by Massey Coal. The takeover occurred shortly before he would have received retirement benefits. Chuck was a union miner. He contracted black lung and also had to return to the usual coal mining work load only four weeks after triple bi-pass heart surgery. They even made him wear the thick belt which irritated his incision. Today, despite his breathing difficulties, he cannot get health benefits. He told me that he continues each day to advocate on line and to e-mail people. His anger gives him energy to spread the word and enlarge his network daily.


All of us were very impressed with the Appalachian people we met. As Carol Warren wrote in her introduction to Like Walking on Another Planet: “The people with whom I walk are not voiceless. They speak with eloquence, grace, and an unusual clarity. Their words, their stories have a power all their own, reflecting the wisdom gained through years of struggle.”


We can take action in a spirit of “mutuality” with them. Some of the coal from West Virginia is purchased by energy suppliers here in Illinois. If we can reduce our consumption of electricity, we encourage a reduction in mountain top removal. Also, when our schools, churches, and public buildings are being built or remodeled, we can encourage energy efficiency, use of alternative, clean energy sources, LED’s, recycle. Jeff Barrie’s documentary, Kilowatt Ours is a great resource for energy saving tips. You can order a copy at


Be aware of these addresses for more information:

Legislative and other action updates:

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC):

Sludge Safety Project:

Sierra Club-Environmental Justice, Charleston, W. V.:

Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW):

Keeper of the Mountains Foundation:

Christians for the Mountains:

It is a perfect place for you to teach the rules of texas holdem game and can be good practice in calculating pot odds.

Honoring the Martyrs of the 1956 Budapest Uprising

1956 Budapest Uprising

I remember listening to Pope Pius XII on the radio when I was eleven years old. On October 23, 1956 he spoke to the nations of the world of the students and workers in Budapest protesting for freedom from Communist Russia. (Since 1945 Moscow controlled and confiscated the wealth of Eastern Europe, including Hungary. The Hungarians followed the Poles example. After street protests and actions of defiance the people of Poland were granted their rights earlier that year).The pontiff pleaded with the western powers to assist the Hungarians. However, no other nation came to their aid.

The protest began nonviolently with students presenting Sixteen Points including a demand for personal freedom, sufficient food, and an end to the secret police and  Russian control of the country. However, the police and military response was violent. Reaction was felt and demonstrated throughout the country. Khruschev replaced Stalin that February and appointed Imre Nagy as prime minister of
Hungary. Nagy was sympathetic to those struggling for freedom. He negotiated with the Soviets who appeared to be willing to withdraw their forces. However, through secret arrangements made by Janos Kadar, the new foreign minister of Hungary, an unmerciful onslaught took place on November 4, 1956 in all parts of the capital. Soviet tanks brutally killed twenty-five to thirty thousand civilians, dragging bodies through the streets, killing even the wounded. The revolt ended on November 10, 1956. Nagy was executed.

Because of the risk of the use of nuclear weapons, the Suez Canal Crisis with the Soviets threatening to engage with Egypt in their fight against France, Britain, and Israel, and the geographic location of Hungary the U. S. did nothing except issue a statement by Secretary of State Dulles, “To all those suffering under communist slavery, let us say you can count on us.”

The resulting psychological trauma to all of the peoples of Eastern Europe was so tremendous that their human rights leaders discouraged protests and demonstrations for decades.Hungary did not gain its independence until October 23, 1989.

For over fifty years I have carried grief, disillusionment, and relentless questions from this horrific massacre. Finally this summer I visited the Budapest memorial to those who perished there.

I offer the following Reflection:

To the martyrs

Fifty years ago you bravely stood tall alone against oppression. No other nation’s citizens came to be with you. These many years I have asked, “Why did you die? Why did no one else come to your aid? Why do we now still have wars, violence and oppression?

Finally, I have arrived at the place of your death. I am in your presence and grieve for your family, friends, for your lives cut short, and for the violence and pain you endured.

You are strong. Your spirits endure. I ask to partake in your strength, for a share of your courage. I am in awe. Thank you!

To God

Thank you for all the persons of courage and conviction you have gifted us with throughout human history. Thank you for belief in you and in human rights and the solidarity of all people and all creatures. Thank you for all that you have made.

Please help us repair what we can, live as you would have us live, respect and value all people, all creatures, the earth and universe.

We ask your wisdom and all the gifts required to continue in the journey to conviolence and peace.

We offer these requests for assistance…(offer additional pettitions and then add)


Joyce at the Memorial in July 2007   

Joyce at the Memorial in July 2007