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A Catholic priest for California’s Native Americans

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 30, 2011 | 12:14 pm

The Column One is not as strong as it used to be, but every now and then, the Los Angeles Times comes through with a great religion story there. This feature about a lonely priest leading a rural Indian parish was just one of those.

Phil Willon’s story about Father Earl Henley and the tiny Church of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Thermal, Calif., opens with a scene from a recent Sunday, when two tribal members showed up for Mass. Two.

Willon tells of the story of Henley’s ministry within the context of California history. An excerpt:

As head of the Native American Ministry for the Diocese of San Bernardino, Henley tends a parish of scattered tribes that include the newly wealthy, awash in casino profits, as well as the destitute hidden in the deep folds of the San Jacinto Mountains.

They are a people bound by loss, having suffered the near-obliteration of their native languages, homelands and ancestral ways.

In the 1700s, Spanish Franciscan missionaries preached the word of God while conscripting tribal members into forced labor. The Roman Catholic Church’s harsh treatment of Native Americans and intolerance of their spiritual rites persisted well into the 20th century. Elders still tell of having been ripped away from their parents and shipped to parochial schools.

For the last decade, Henley has tried to salve those wounds and increase the flock.

And it’s tough going. Read the rest here.

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