By Berta Mexidor
Sister María Elena Méndez, MGSpS, a coordinator for Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson visited her colleagues in the Diocese of Fresno, California’s, Migrant Ministry program on September 17-19.
This was the second half of an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) office of Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT). Members of the UCSSB committee make annual visits to dioceses who work with a large population of immigrant and temporary workers. In 2015 Bishop John Manz led a PCMRT visit to the Jackson Diocese. The local Hispanic ministry team took him on a tour of farms and work sites in the Delta so he could experience the reality of life in the rural South.
This year the committee invited Sister Mendez to accompany them to California. Bishop Armando Ochoa and Benito Medrano, coordinator of Hispanic Ministry of the Fresno diocese welcomed the visitors.
Representatives from the University of Detroit Mercy, the UDM Jesuit Community and the Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network also attended.
The guests learned about the work of Fresno diocesan team; went to an Easton, California, vineyard and a dairy in Rosa to visit farmworkers and their families. They also witnessed the efforts of both the Immaculate Mary Eucharistic Missionary sisters (MEMI Sisters) and a community organization called Faith in the Valley. Sister Mendez said she was impressed by how well these organizations collaborated. “Each of the … communities represent a significant strength. Because they collaborate in the office as well as the field they have bonds of friendship and trust that becomes a house built on a foundation of rock.”
During the meetings they had time for a presentation about a basic formation methodology. Father Tom Florek, SJ., from University of Detroit Mercy was the presenter. During those days the visitors talked with adults cathechists and community leaders, joined Mass and enjoyed community gatherings. “We met Christ in the men, women and children we met in the grape fields. The good news was palpable in the hospitality, testimonies, prayers and blessings,” he wrote in a report he prepared about the visit.
Sister Mendez compared the migrant and farmworkers’ situation in Mississippi and California, concluding all of them have much in common “I thanked them for putting food on everyone’s table.” Getting to meet them, she said, affirms the work she does every day “…they called us as a church to encounter people on the periferies and to find ways to educate and evangelize.”
The farmworkers reminded her of these verses from Carlos Rosas’ song, “You are the peasant God who works from sunrise to sunset. I have seen you surrendered, and sweat runs on your face. You are the peasant God who works in the labor.”
“It is my hope that the various participating communities can benefit from what we have learned and further a dialogue that results in greater good for the lives of the farmworkers and their families,” said Sister.
By Maureen Smith
How can the church minister to and be strengthened by a new wave of immigrants from South and Central America? According to Dr. Hossfman Ospino, an associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, both the nation and the church have done it before and will be able to do it again. Ospino came to the Diocese of Jackson to lead and participate in a series of workshops and encounters in deanery five as part of National Migration Week, Jan. 7-13.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been organizing a theme and providing educational materials for National Migration Week for almost 50 years as an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking.
“The theme of National Migration Week 2018 was ‘Many Journeys, One Family.’ In this context, Dr. Ospino gave a conference to pastors, Lay Ecclesial Ministers, leaders from different parishes and diocesan offices about the history of migration and how this phenomenon is re-defining the Catholicism in the 21st century,” explained Danna Johnson, coordinator of Hispanic Ministry for Pontotoc St. Christopher and head of the Catholic Charities office in Vardaman. “This was a learning experience and an opportunity to re-affirm our missionary spirit as one church here in this diocese,” she added.
In a recent article in America Magazine, Ospino compared the current influx of immigrants to when European Catholics poured into the States. Father Tim Murphy, pastor of Tupelo St. James Parish said he was encouraged by what he heard. “It’s challenging, but it’s possible. We have done this before, we have met the needs of other immigrant groups and we can do it again now,” he said. For both the European immigrants and the Hispanic immigrants, the church is at the center of their cultural experience so their presence is an opportunity to strengthen the church overall.
Father Murphy said Ospino’s statistics and suggestions “really affirm a lot of what we have been doing in this mission diocese.”
Father Murphy said beyond just research, Ospino brings a practical eye to his presentations. “He comes from a hands-on background. He did mission work and pastoral work and retreat work from the time he was 16-years old.”
Amelia McGowan, who heads the Catholic Charities Migrant Support Services, presented a video called “The Cost of Deportation.” The video is meant to raise awareness about what is happening in communities right here and help people comprehend the importance of knowing their rights. She also offered a free legal clinic to families who might have questions about their particular immigration status.
“Many Hispanic families from deanery five attended a unique presentation by Father Octavio Escobar and Ospino. Both presenters were able to challenge our roles as baptized, as Christians, and as immigrant Catholics in our communities,” Johnson said. “Father Octavio based his presentation on the article Dr. Ospino wrote in America Magazine,” she added.
On Friday, despite plummeting temperatures and ice and sleet pressing into the area, Ospino visited Vardaman. While there, he toured a sweet potato packing plant and took advantage of an opportunity to listen to a diverse group of local citizens and the advisory board of Northeast office of Catholic Charities, Inc. The group was able to share the challenges and opportunities all face in attending the different needs in this rural area of Mississippi. “He told me later this rural experience was new to him so the visit to Vardaman was mutually beneficial,” said Father Murphy.
“The outcome of this week was to have an opportunity to come together, as one family, to share, learn, and celebrate the Culture of Encounter,” said Johnson. “We believe that Amelia, Father Octavio, and Ospino made that possible. We all are blessed beyond measure with their presence among us,” she added.
“What we heard really ties in with the (Diocesan) Pastoral Plan to embrace diversity and inspire disciples,” said Father Murphy. He said he hopes he can host Ospino in Mississippi again at a later date.
To learn more about National Migration Week, go to https://www.sharejourney.org