Community garden starts in Clarksdale

By Maureen Smith
CLARKSDALE – A community empowerment group based out of Clarksdale Immaculate Conception Parish is seeking volunteers for its first project, a community garden. The Community Engagers, led by Henry White plans to make use of a six-acre plot behind the old school on Ritchie Avenue.
White approached Father Scott Thomas, pastor, about starting a non-profit community empowerment group. The garden was the first project. “When he said he was willing to head it up, I was all for it,” said Father Thomas. “I love when parishioners are ready to take on a project like this one,” he added. White is a Delta native, but just moved back to the area and is ready to make a difference.
Local farmer Bowen Flowers has agreed to prepare the land for planting. White is appealing to parishioners and community leaders to subdivide and plant the plots and maintain the garden. He sent out a flyer seeking volunteers and donations of cash or seeds. “I employ my fellow Catholic brethren to stand with us to provide this wonderful opportunity to serve the poor and underserved residents of Clarksdale by offering affordable and healthy accessible food choices,” wrote White in the flyer.
White has been working on this project for some time, seeking help from both local and state resources. “He had a meeting at City Hall and has been speaking with other groups,” said Father Scott. “This could turn into a nice ecumenical effort, which would be great,” he said.
“Alcorn State University Farm Extension agency conducted a site visit and helped us develop a plan to pretreat the soil and prepare for planting,” wrote White in an email to Mississippi Catholic. “My pastor, Father Scott Thomas and fellow parishioners from Immaculate Conception and St. Elisabeth along with Catholic Charities-North West offered invaluable resource,” he wrote. “I thought nothing else could top my sense  pride in seeing a community pull together for the good to start and outreach campaign that would be beneficial to the Upper Brick Yard and essentially our bordering neighborhoods of Magnolia Courts and Willow Park Apartments,” he added.
White paid a visit to the community garden Sister Kay Burton, SNJM, coordinates in Jonestown.  Her garden provides residents a place to grow produce to sell at the Clarksdale Farmer’s Market and other venues. She and the children in her summer school program also plant their own vegetables along the edges. She said she was happy to host White to show him a sample of how her program works.
Anyone who wants to donate time, seeds or money can contact White at 443-939-0575 or by email at

Rogation Days still part of rural Mississippi faith

By Father Scott Thomas
May 24 marked the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical Laudato Si, in which he spoke to humanity about its relationship with creation. In rural Mississippi, especially in the Delta, people still depend on the yield of the land. So many jobs are based on farming, so naturally the Holy Father’s encyclical is very relevant to our diocese and state. Towards the end, the Holy Father says, “The rich heritage of Christian spirituality, the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and communal experience, has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity.” One of those contributions is the celebration of Rogation Days in the month of May.

Father Thomas blesses St. Elizabeth parishioner, Mark Agostinelli's field in Clarksdale. In rural Mississippi, especially in the Delta, people still depend on the yield of the land.

Father Thomas blesses St. Elizabeth parishioner, Mark Agostinelli’s field in Clarksdale. In rural Mississippi, especially in the Delta, people still depend on the yield of the land.

Rogation Days within the Christian church can be traced back to the days of St. Mamertius (d. 475). His diocese suffered different natural disasters so he recommended the faithful to turn to fasting in asking for divine assistance and protection over the course of the three days before the Ascension. This continues today, but unfortunately with less participation since the reform of the Roman Calendar following the Second Vatican Council.
During that reform, Pope Bl. Paul VI asked that during Rogation Days prayers for vocations to the priesthood be added. After all, the flock of Christ is seen as a harvest in Sacred Scripture (Luke 10:2), and many laborers are needed to work this harvest. Paul VI’s interest in these days shows that he himself intended for Rogation Days to still be celebrated in some fashion because he saw the value in them.
The church teaches us through her social doctrine that our work can be a participation in the creation of the world. Pope Francis recently said that Jesus “sanctified human labor and endowed it with a special significance for our development.” Thus, as St. John Paul II stated, through our work humanity “in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity.” God blesses our work in a number of ways, most visibly through the church and her priests as farmers take their pastor into the fields during the Rogation Days.
St. Elizabeth parishioner, Richard Noe, has farmed in the Clarksdale area for 55 years. These days he farms with his son Richard and is joined by his grandson Zachary during the summers. According to Noe, during the days of Msgr. McKenna, one or two retired farmers would pick up the priest and take him around to all of the farms in the parish boundaries. But today each individual farmer meets the priest or picks him up and escorts him to a patch of fledgling crops. This way more are involved and the pastor greets his flock on their turf, in their “natural habitats” away from the parish rectory.
Jude Watts, also a parishioner of St Elizabeth who farms with his son Thad, says that the farmer learns very quickly to trust in God’s providence. “Farming is good proof that God is in control. We can’t control the rain so of course God’s blessing on our crops is needed,” said Watts. There is a lot that farmers have to contend with, whether it be a lack of rain, high winds blowing sand on the crops, a scorching sun, or pests such as wild hogs.
While we can till the ground more efficiently, improve seeds, and have access to beneficial chemicals, even as technology grows, we are still dependent upon God and His grace for us. Rogation days are a marvelous reminder of this as we fast and pray for God’s blessing on our farms and gardens. Of course, we in no way should limit these prayers to just three or four days. Rather, we should always pray to God for favorable weather and a good harvest for the benefit of the farmers, their community and beyond.
(Father Scott Thomas is the pastor of Clarksdale St. Elizabeth Parish)