“Spirituality of the Campesino” by Fr. Mike McAndrew
Last month I wrote an introduction to Campesino ministry, our Church’s outreach to the agricultural workers in the United States. In this article I hope to give a glimpse into the people about whom much of the political debate on immigration swirls. The people about whom I speak are Hispanic. They comprise both American citizens and immigrants primarily from Mexico, but include people from other American nations. They work in all aspects of agricultural work. They live in diverse situations of legal status in the United States.
My interest is not in the politics of the times, but in getting to know the people who are often seeking the
ministry of our church. While most campesinos come from a Catholic heritage, they live in various stages of attachment or detachment from their heritage of faith. One of the most notable realities one encounters with people who work the fields is a spirituality based on faith, family, work, sacrament, hope, resilience, prayer and joy. While all of these values may be seen in all people of Hispanic heritage, they are embodied in the fabric of life of those tied to the land, the campesino.
Faith: The faith of the campesino comes from the heart, “el corazón.” It is rooted in the relationship of the farm worker to working the land in cooperation with nature and the changing conditions that come in nature. There is gratitude for all the things that give hope and life that comes in the gifts that the land provides. Justice is found in fairness, opportunity, compassion and forgiveness. The farm worker accepts mystery and is not troubled if some things cannot be explained. The faith of the Latino community is nurtured by devotional practices found in families and in rural communities.
Family: Attachment to family is noted by non-Hispanic Americans as one of the greatest virtues of the Latino community. While the attachment to family is great, it is under stress in the farm worker community. Many families suffer long periods of separation because of work, immigration injustices and the conditions of poverty. Substandard housing and overcrowding is common. One’s confidence and human dignity is nurtured by the stability of relationships and today many of our farm worker families are at great risk.
Work: One migrant worker proudly told me that he had worked 22 consecutive days. He works in the United States for about eight months each year and returns to his wife and family each winter for four months. He does not come here for vacation. A successful year is measured by the days that he is able to find work in the fields of California, Oregon and Washington. Work allows one a sense of accomplishment and dignity. One campesino, Juan, received food, clothing and blankets to help his family through the winter when there was not enough work in his area to provide for his family. He received the food with tears in his eyes. He said he was grateful to those who provided the help, but he would rather be working. For many receiving such help is accompanied by a sense of humiliation.
Sacrament: Some may be surprised that sacrament be considered part of the spirituality of the campesino, as so many when attending Mass do not receive the Eucharist. There is a great desire for signs of the presence of God in the farm worker’s life. Unfortunately there are many obstacles to receiving the sacraments of Confirmation, First Eucharist and Marriage for migrant workers. In place of the reception of the sacraments of the Church, people look for blessings in many ways. The desire to have contact with God is at the root of these blessings. Those who find themselves in harsh and uncomfortable situations of life ask for reassurance that they are okay with God. With the belief that one cannot receive the sacrament, people ask for blessing of homes, cars, religious articles and children so that they have signs of God’s love.
Hope: No matter the situation the migrant farm worker accepts what the day gives with confident hope that they will have what is necessary in their lives. The hope that they show in dealing with very trying circumstances of life transfers to the spiritual. Often hopeful statements are followed by the words, “Si Dios quiere.” (If God wills it.) This hope can be seen in respect given even to those who may treat the person unfairly or with disrespect.
Resilience: Mobility is the response of the campesino to the insecurity of the life. It is the outward sign of the hope of the campesino. Today there are less people moving around in caravans following harvests from state to state. Much of the work is within 50 miles of one’s home. Yet the nature of temporary agricultural work keeps people open to moving if an opportunity arises for a more stable employment.
Mobility and insecurity are part of the life of the farm worker. With the experience of facing many uncomfortable situations, people develop a resilience that aids in response to many difficulties. Insecurity is so much a part of the life of the campesino that it hardly affects ones emotional capacity to love in the more important relationships in one’s life. The response of Jesus on the cross was, “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?” Often a migrant farm worker may identify with this sentiment, but as with Jesus, the migrant asks for the grace to accept God’s will. “Si, Dios quiere.”
Prayer: The practice of prayer comes from devotional practices learned in the family and the community of one’s youth. Practices of prayer include the devotional practices of the rosary, Stations of the Cross and attendance at Mass when convenient. Important moments of life are celebrated with prayer. Feasts of Mary, Posadas and traditions of one’s home town are accompanied by services celebrated to recall heritage and faith. The death of a loved one is remembered with a novena, saying the rosary each day for nine days. Devotional practices often are accompanied by food and fiesta.
Joy: One of the surprises that I found in working with campesinos was the capacity to find something to celebrate even in the most difficult of times. While in Mexico I visited a man who had been deported. He told me of his experience with others in the Homeland Security van to be taken to the border. He said that on the highway they began telling jokes and singing.
What is lacking? Too often a hostile world eats away at our confidence and dignity. We need to develop more compassion and understanding for those working our fields. We especially need to recognize their faith and spirituality. Flexibility and spontaneity are needed in church leaders to welcome those who live in the moment in temporary and unstable jobs. Ministry with the campesino requires reflection on our most basic requirements for proclaiming the Word and sacrament to the people of God. We wish to place no obstacles on the poor for receiving the grace of God.
Next month’s reflection: A Heritage of Faith
Fr. Mike McAndrew is the Director of Campesino Ministry for the Diocese of Fresno, Calif.
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One of you Tom Deely C.SS.R. | Monday, July 28, 2014
Heard about this site and your recent book from Jim Gilmour.I work in what we call REAPING THE HARVEST, a ministry in the Hudson Valley started by a Fr. Duggan in Marlboro in the 80ties. Dan Crimminis, a Christian Brother and two former Maryknoll volunteers with Catholic Worker backgrounds work with me: Deidre Cornell and Kenney Gould, her husband. Deirdre’s book JESUS WAS A MIGRANT just came out in Orbis Books this last spring. Her dad, Tom Cornell was editor of the CW and Dorothy Day’s public relations man back then