A priest among the tribes

 |  NCR Today

His parish is vast -- millions of acres of brushland and desert. But his flock is small -- at Sunday Mass, two people show up to worship. But for Fr. Earl Henley, his task is huge: inviting Native American tribes of California back into the church after centuries of abuse and mistrust.

Henley is the subject of a fascinating profile in today's Los Angeles Times, detailing his work among desert tribes as head of the Native American Ministry of the San Bernadino diocese. It is, he admits, hard work -- much harder than the decades he spent as a missionary on Papua New Guinea, out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

In the desert, there is no water -- and worshippers seem just as hard to find. Church history here includes forced labor at missions in the 1700s, through to forced removal from families and placement in church schools in the 1900s. With Vatican II, and Pope John Paul's apology to Native Americans in the late 1980s, relations began to warm -- but long-held suspicions die hard. Still, Henley is out there trying: he has brokered peace between tribal leaders and state police, and has been a helping hand as some tribes deal with the not-so-glamourous side effects of legal casino gambling on native lands: higher rates of crime, drug abuse and domestic violence.

It is, as the Times writes, a "lonely ministry," and Henley, now 69 years old, sometimes feels like he needs a break, some time to reassess -- but, he realizes, the need is there. Someone has to help.

Christmas-NCR-gifts-half_0.jpgGive a subscription to our award-winning newspaper and save $10.

Support independent reporting on important issues.

 One family graphic_2016_250x103.jpg


NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at Disqus.com/verify.
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

Commenting is available during business hours, Central time, USA. Commenting is not available in the evenings, over weekends and on holidays. More details are available here. Comments are open on NCR's Facebook page.



NCR Email Alerts


In This Issue

July 14-27, 2017