By Berta Mexidor
GREENWOOD – Catfish and zucchini have a common denominator in the southern cuisine: Latinos’ soul. Redemptorist Father Ted Dorcey noted this connection during a tour of farms he helped conduct for a group from Catholic Extension. There are four Redemptorists working with the Hispanic community in the Delta. Their ministry was one stop for the visitors who spent two days immersed in different aspects of Hispanic ministry in Mississippi.
The Redemptorists have been in this area for more than four years, serving Catholics in remote places, especially those working in industries with a schedule that might make it hard to attend Mass or receive sacraments.
During the encounter, Joe Boland, vice president of Catholic Extension explained the mission of their organization is to finance the best efforts of the Catholic church in U.S, as well as reaching out in special cases such as the Puerto Rico crisis, church construction in Cuba and seminarian support.
Timothy Muldoon, Director of Mission Education for Catholic Extension, explained that the purpose of this trip is provide a glimpse of the not well-known areas of the pastoral work. Muldoon is trying to connect, in this case, three priests from Chicago with the Mississippi Delta, from where African American families in Chicago came a generation ago.
The priests, Fathers Sergio Romo from St Andrew, Paul Seaman of St. Clement and Francis Bitterman from St. Josaphat, all parishes in Chicago, were impressed by the circumstances and work of the Redemptorist mission in the Delta. Father Romo pointed out that there are great differences between his work in a metropolitan church in Chicago and an itinerant church with parishioners scattered throughout the Mississippi Delta.
Joining the members of the Catholic Extension team were representatives of the Diocese of Jackson including Fran Lavelle, Director Faith Formation, two Missionary Guadalupans of the Holy Spirit, Maria Elena Méndez and Maria Josefa García, who are both coordinators for Hispanic Ministry for the diocese, and Father Kevin Slattery, vicar general.
Lavelle noted that the diocese serves 95 parishes and missions in a state where Catholics are a minority are scattered throughout the territory. In the Delta the Redemptorist are reaching many Latino families but this is not enough. The diocese’s Hispanic ministry team is constantly on the road to support work in parishes and missions throughout the diocese.
As a part of the excursion, Father Dorcey invited the visitors to the zucchini harvest at one farm and a catfish plant, where many Mexicans are seasonal workers under the work visa program. All the visitors and guests witnessed in firsthand the labor conditions and motivation of young migrants and their families working in Mississippi.
Adolfo Rojas, supervisor of the farm workers answered questions from the visitors, who were impressed by the faith of all the workers who keep their link with the church even after long hours of work.
Catholic Extension’s Karla Ortiz, manager of mission programs, Natalie Donatello, manager of parish partnerships and Rich Kalonick, senior manager of creative, who was shooting video and photos, were also part of the delegation.
After their Delta tour, the group also visited Carthage, Camden and Forest.