“Campesino Ministry: Challenges in giving personal attention in ministry” – by Fr. Mike McAndrew
Fifty and sixty years ago the face of the “campesino” was identified with the “migrant” worker who followed the crops from the South to the North and back to the South. It was easy to identify the migrants. They worked the fields. They lived in groups at camp housing or in tent cities on farms. They were in a community for a specific period of time. When the harvest ended, they moved on. Communities adjusted to the flow of workers during certain times of the year. There were priests and religious who followed some of the workers, but by and large the migrants were invisible to many of our church communities.
Changes in agriculture have reduced the number of people who continue to live in the mobile manner of migrants in the past. While some continue to live working “la corrida” (the circuit), most live in towns and cities. In California a contractor assigns workers or families to farms that need temporary employees for cultivation or harvest. Workers meet at parking lots at shopping centers or churches and go to work in groups. They return home in the evening. They tend to work within 50 miles of their homes. The work is temporary, involving a variety of crops and a variety of skills. Many are uncertain about how long they will remain in a place. They live in the moment. The fluidity of their lives is formed by things outside their control in the forces of climate, economics and political realities.
Temporary Workers in an urban community
It is important to identify those living in urban communities, who work a series of temporary jobs, primarily but not exclusively, in agriculture. It is not unusual that one spends most of his time working in agriculture, but during down times will work as a laborer in construction or at restaurants or other temporary jobs. These urban temporary workers gain many skills, but most important is the willingness to work. The struggle for survival in a foreign land is not easy.
Last month in my article on “A farm worker’s story,” I told of a family that has participated often in special sacramental programs for migrant farm workers over the past 15 years. Alberto said to me, “Father, we do not come to you because you make it easy; we come to you because you give us personal attention and know our life.”
The challenge of giving personal attention in ministry
The parish model for developing ministry reaches a majority of the people. It provides organization to reach a specific community, but easily can overlook specific challenges faced by large populations in its midst. Programs that serve many, may not serve all. Often those who are homeless, who work second shift, seasonal workers, migrants, the undocumented, the incarcerated, those unable to attend Sunday Masses regularly are not integrated into the life of a parish. It is very difficult to give personal attention to people who are marginalized in our communities.
Changing face of Campesino Ministry
Many pastoral agents assume that since most campesinos live in an area for an extended period of time, sometimes years, they are served by the ordinary ministry of a local parish. While some campesinos do involve themselves in the local parish, schools and community, many do not because of the uncertainty of their lives. It is the lack of security in the months ahead that create an environment of people on the move.
It is important that we see campesino ministry as more than simply “migrant ministry.” If we only see it as ministry to migrant camps, we set it aside as a “special ministry” that only gets the attention of a small group of people within the Church. We may do some nice events, Masses in camps, but we fail to create an ongoing sense of welcome. Those living in isolated communities are still isolated from the life of the parish.
We need to define, or re-define campesino ministry as the ministry of the Church for all people working in agriculture. This involves all workers, the hired hands, the dairy workers, packing house workers and seasonal workers. Defining campesino ministry as only concerned with migrants, ignores the great need of the Church’s outreach to all people involved in agriculture.
Do we need special programs for the campesino, or do we need flexibility and creativity in our ordinary programs of sacramental formation?
This is an excellent question posed by a DRE in a parish who recognized that a significant part of her parish, not only those working in agriculture lived in a state of mobility. The parish had tried a variety of models of catechesis over a ten year period. There were family based models, classroom models, guided homeschooling and models based on intensive programming. In the experiments of the various models of catechesis there had always been a sense of competition between programs and a tension within the parish.
When the parish staff decided on an “all of the above” strategy, the catechists in each of the programs began to share with each other their successes and their struggles. While each model for catechesis had different timelines and different times for celebrations of the sacraments, the parish actually became more unified as groups celebrated their autonomy. The cooperation of various groups in the catechesis of the parish modeled coming together of other groups such as choirs, bible studies and prayer groups.
No one program can serve the needs of all and as soon as a parish commits itself to one program, others come to the attention of the parish who have special needs that may need another response. There is dynamism to catechesis that calls on us to recognize that evangelization is more than any one program. It is a process that invites one into a relationship with Christ.
Fr. Mike McAndrew is the Director of Campesino Ministry for the Diocese of Fresno, Calif.
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