As you know we are in the midst of our 2017 Bishop’s Annual Appeal. One day last week I visited a parish in Ahoskie, NC which is supported by the BAA, to learn about the ways the BAA supports rural parishes in our diocese. Ahoskie is 130 miles to the northeast of Raleigh. I left early in the morning, drove east on 540, then to 64, and then Route 11 along rural country highways. The route is dotted with small towns and fields. I arrived in Ahoskie and met Fr. Bill Long, who is pastor of St. Charles Borromeo parish there. He has been pastor there for nine years and covers Ahoskie along with other towns in the area. In a day, he might drive 70 miles back and forth between towns; he told me that in a typical year he drives 50,000 miles. His parish is made up of whites, blacks, and Latinos who work the fields.

He took me to visit a food pantry where we learned that the number of people who are in need of food is rising. The pantry has a backpack program for kids – every Thursday a backpack is filled with food which is then brought to area schools to be given to students to take home for the weekend. Fr. Bill told me that the old industries in Ahoskie – textiles, furniture, agriculture are dying out, or diminished, and that poverty is on the rise. The people who attend St. Charles Borromeo are unable to support the parish on their own and so funds from the BAA are used to maintain a Catholic presence in that part of the diocese.

At the end of our tour we had lunch in Murfreesboro, not far from the Virginia border, at a Mexican restaurant. The owners were members of the parish and welcomed Fr. Bill and were grateful for his ongoing presence at the parish in Ahoskie. Overall, for me, it was a picture of the important ways that the BAA helps to support rural parishes throughout our diocese. And so we ask, if you have not already contributed to the 2017 BAA, please consider making a donation. We friars have already pledged, as a sign of our commitment to the diocese.

A reminder that this coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and you can find the schedule for the day on the cover of this bulletin. Please note that the only mass on this day is at 9:00am in the main church with the school and that this mass tends to be crowded. All other services on Ash Wednesday are liturgies of the word, with ashes (please also note that these liturgies “count” for Ash Wednesday!) Sometimes people ask for recommendations for Lenten reading. Here are two good choices: one is “Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter” (published by Orbis Books); and the other is the beautifully titled “A Way Other Than Our Own” by Walter Brueggemann.

Blessings on your week!