This is God's Country
By Br. Thomas Skowron, OFM Cap.
It was a sunny but very cold morning in early January when I left St. Francis Monastery in Milwaukee to move to my new assignment. Two days, 1,200 miles, five states and one time zone later, I finally arrived at my destination: my new home, Crow Agency in Montana.
I must admit, I haven’t been that excited about a new assignment in quite a while. Montana wasn’t completely new to me. I lived on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation from August 2020 to May 2021. This time I would live with two other wonderful friars, Br. Mike Dorn and Br. Jerry Cornish, on the Crow Indian Reservation. The rez has an area of 3,607 sq mi but a population of only 7,100. Let me do the math for you: that’s only 2 persons per square mile. It means lots of driving for us—up to 75 miles one way to one of the four churches we serve. But as remote and exhausting as it might sound, for me it’s the most beautiful and rewarding ministry of the entire province.
As many of our readers probably know, many indigenous tribes in the United States struggle with extreme poverty. In fact, they belong to the most marginalized groups in American society. As Capuchins we won’t be able to fix all of their problems—in fact, we probably don’t even fully understand the complexity of life affected by cultural genocide, addiction, violence, and racial bias—but we try to follow Jesus’ call to preach the Gospel and love everyone as our brother and sister. In Montana we are involved in parish work and religious education. We celebrate the sacraments, visit elders and the sick, teach in the local Catholic Indian school, feed the hungry, but most of all, we try to encounter everyone with respect, to bring them back their dignity. Not very often we hear words of appreciation but that doesn’t make our ministry less important and beautiful. Every day I see Christ crucified in my beautiful Crow brothers and sisters, I see the Lord in faces full of suffering, pain and... God’s love—and that’s my reward.
In my life as a Capuchin I always felt drawn toward people on the margins, those who have been told for a long time, that they are worth nothing. The Bible proves the opposite—it’s the poor, the outcasts, the marginalized, who God cares most about. With my own brokenness and all the mess in my own heart, I’m not any better than any of my least brothers and sisters. And yet God somehow still loves me and forgives me my own failures—this is the source of my gratitude, freedom and motivation to remind people around me that they’re absolutely amazing and precious in their Father’s eyes.
I couldn’t be more grateful for an assignment than I am now. Oftentimes I find myself praying for the Crow, for “my” people, when I drive through rough and empty landscapes of the reservation. And then I say: “God, this is your land. Send your Spirit and renew its face.”