Rural ministry is so important -- and also largely forgotten. That's why Sister Pat Flass runs the Rural Program, which invites Sisters and associates to the rural South to understand the need... and how they could help fill it.
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I'm Sister Maxine, and my guest is Sister Patricia Flass. Sister Pat is a familiar face in small towns around Selma, Alabama, where she has lived and worked for over 20 years in some of the most impoverished areas of our nation. She currently leads the new Rural Program, where she introduces other Catholic Sisters and associates to Selma-area residents and opportunities for service. Sister Pat, let's talk about your current ministry, which is with the Rural Program. Can you describe what the program does and what your role in it is?
Well, we have a new program that we have started. It's almost two years old now. Course, the COVID epidemic interrupted the program quite a bit. But the program is designed to encourage Catholic Sisters and associates of congregations to come to the rural South to really learn firsthand about the poverty in rural areas of our country. And then to go back to where they are, and maybe duplicate some of the services. What has happened in a lot of congregations, including our own, is that the small towns and rural areas where we used to work, the ministries there have been closed, and almost all of our ministries now are located in in urban areas, right in the cities. And that has happened throughout the country. So the rural areas, more and more, have seen the religious presence diminish. And it is so important because the sisters have that ability to connect with people. And when they stay in a community a long time, people trust them. And that is so important, to build up that level of trust in the small communities. And so we hope that this program, which is funded by the Hilton Foundation, for Catholic Sisters, that this program will encourage religious congregations to consider rural ministry as part of their congregational ministries. Sisters come in, we spend, sometimes four days, sometimes a week or more. We visit the rural area, talk to the people, find out what their needs are, actually experience the travel time from one area to another--that has amazed a lot of people, how much time we have to spend on the road, just to get from one place to another. So the experience of rural ministry, the lack of Catholic churches--there's probably one Catholic Church to a county, if you're lucky. In some counties, there is no Catholic Church. And that is a deprivation for religious congregations with sisters who are used to being at daily Mass--come to the rural area and find out that that's not possible. So the program is to encourage people to come, sisters and associates to come to visit to find out about poverty in rural areas, and go back to their own state, or locale and maybe consider, again, working in rural ministry. Because it's just so important. And it's kind of forgotten.
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This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.