A month ago this weekend, Northeast Wyoming and especially West South Dakota were hit hard by an early winter blizzard named Storm Atlas. Last night, I heard from the Bishop of Rapid City, Bishop Robert Gruss, just how devastating the storm was to local livestock growers in his area.  Hit particularly hard were the ranchers of beef cattle.

Atlas 1

One month after the storm, these cattle still need to be removed from a stream where they took shelter hoping to get out of the killer winds.

As a neighboring bishop, and as President of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, I wish to express our fraternal and prayerful support for all the ranching families who experienced the full force of nature in this storm.  My friends, you are not alone!  On this Solemnity of All Saints, the People of God are with you in prayer and in Spirit.

The statistics of the losses incurred by so many ranchers is breath-taking, and heart-breaking.  Estimates of cattle losses range greatly across all areas affected (Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and parts of North Dakota).  Final estimate of losses are still being compiled.  It is important to remember that there were also heavy losses to sheep herds and horses.

The economic impact of this storm will be felt for some time well into the future.  Sadly, many of these cattle would have been sold within weeks after the storm.  Not only were many calves lost, but also the herd genetics family ranchers have built over generations will take another generation to rebuild, if indeed the families are able to survive at all.  For a good treatment on the full impact to the cattle ranching families, see the following article on the South Dakota State Extension website.

For more information on the nature of the storm and why the loss of livestock was so astronomical, you can view this video,  it is about sixteen minutes in length.

In the wake of such devastation, it is taking a while to understand the full scale of losses, let alone understand how best to come to the aid of these ranching families.  One thing many ranchers already know is that what they have (the land and ranching) is entrusted to them by the Lord.  Ranching is a way of life, a way of working hand in hand with the Creator.  It is a way of life that enhances faith, and as we see  up close and personal in the wake of this storm, a way of life that tests faith.

Atlas 2

Another large group of cattle that perished while seeking shelter from the storm. This photo also taken one month after the storm.

Our catechism picks up on this truth that we hold all things in common as gifts from the Lord:  CCC #952 states:  “Everything the true Christian has is to be regarded as a good possessed in common with everyone else. All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy… and of their neighbors in want.  A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods.

Perhaps this is a good time to remember that the rural community makes up a large portion of this ‘Body of Christ’ we call Church.  When one member suffers, we all suffer.  We can surely find the face of Christ in the suffering.  I ask my brother bishops to have your arch/dioceses contact our brother, Bishop Robert Gruss, to see how together we can make a substantial contribution to ease the pain of this human tragedy.

Every rancher (and farmer) knows the beauty of working so closely with nature and the risks it entails.  However, ranchers receive only one pay check a year from the sale of their livestock.  Sadly, this year, many will not be seeing that check, or will see a substantial reduction in their usual income.  Not only are businesses at risk, but the families behind them and a way of life that is worth supporting.

If you like a good steak or a tasty hamburger, these are the folks who get it to the grill!

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, perhaps we can each recognize the many blessings God’s Providential hand has granted us, and in the wake of this poignant need in our own country, we may find the fraternal and generous spirit to offer prayers of support and where possible, financial contributions of immediate aid through the Diocese of Rapid City Catholic Social Services.

Let us Pray:  O God, whose family you have placed upon the earth, that Your creation may provide for all our need.  Hear the prayers of Your family, especially those whose livelihood is threatened following the devastation of Storm Atlas.  From the beginning of creation You reveal your power and divinity through what you have made.  Grant us the grace to see Your power and divinity at work even in the powerful menace of this winter storm.  Strengthen the faith of those who find it difficult to hope in tomorrow and the courage to face the challenges of today.  Stir the hearts of Your faithful to find You, love You, and serve You in their neighbors in need.  Grant that our faith in the Resurrection of Your Son Jesus may be actively alive in us, that we may see in this immediate need the ways in which you will bring forth life once again from devastating realities.  We make this prayer in Christ’s name, as our Lord and Savior, for ever and ever,