Being global citizens

Sept. 26-Oct. 2,2002
Being global citizens
By Howie Mansfield
St. Augustine parishioners begin migrant worker ministry in Baldwinsville

BALDWINSVILLE — The Holy Spirit has helped St. Augustine’s Parish to expand its ministry to migrant workers who come to Central New York for the summer. Father John Rose, pastor of St. Augustine’s Church, led a group of parishioners on a retreat to Cuernavaca, Mexico early in 2002. The Benedictine Monks at the Weston Priory in Weston, VT sponsored the trip to Mexico. Participants were able to see first-hand the poverty and difficult life the Mexican people face.

“I felt as though the parish needed a great awareness of global issues. We need to follow the Gospel and the church’s teaching,” Father Rose said. “The retreat is a Third World experience for North Americans to see what is going on.”

Michael Conway and his wife Maureen attended the conference. Michael said the experience opened his eyes to the problems the native people deal with each day.

“Each day, we listened to different speakers. We would have discussions about the issues facing the Mexican people. In the afternoon, we would go to a destination and see what lives these people were living.”

Maureen said the trip was very spiritual for her.

“The experience of going into the homes of these people. Here we are a small Christian group, and there are wall-to-wall people in these homes. It was a very moving experience. We came away with a real passion for the people.”

Michael said he didn’t think the experience was going to be so spiritual, but in the end, he felt there was a reason for their trip. “On the plane flight, our energy was all the way up, but now, what were we going to do? I think it was a little touch of the Holy Spirit,” Michael said. “We thought, ‘Well, in Baldwinsville, there isn’t a great ethnic mix.’ But in the summer, there are a number of migrant workers from Mexico and Guatemala. We said that’s a possibility.”

In the spring, the Conways knew they needed someone who could communicate with the migrant workers in order to get the ministry off the ground. They asked Ruben Gutierrez and his wife Abby, who both speak fluent Spanish, to talk with local migrant workers and find out what they need.

“Ruben was more than willing to do it,” Michael said. “Both he and his wife thought it was a great idea. The next day after Ruben agreed to help, he was going into one of the stores and saw some of the migrant workers. Ruben and Abby decided to go over and talk to them. The migrant workers were a little shy, because they are not used to being approached. Ruben said, ‘We would like to help you.’”

Maureen said the migrant workers expressed a need for food and blankets, because of the unusually cold and wet spring in the area. The ministry group then asked the congregation to supply those needs and the response was outstanding, the Conways said. It was the spark that set off this firestorm of friendship between the migrant workers and the parishioners of St. Augustine’s.

Members of St. Mary’s Church in Baldwinsville opened their food pantry to the migrant workers after hearing about the ministry. St. Augustine’s parishioners began offering time and resources to those in need. The ministry was blooming, the Conways explained.

“We had people giving them guitars to use, donating zoo tickets — everyone who has participated has been excited with this new ministry,” Maureen said.

Chris Ballard, a diocesan seminarian from St. Augustine’s, helped coordinate a Mass in Spanish for the migrant workers one night. Father Rose said the evening was filled with wonderful songs and prayers.

“Chris went out and got the readings and Eucharistic prayers in Spanish for the workers. They were so excited. After the Mass, they treated us to a homemade meal and shared songs with us. They are fabulous musicians,” Father Rose said. “I was overwhelmed by this Eucharistic celebration. The more we associate with people who are different from ourselves, the more we see that we are alike. Whether they be Iraqi, Mexican or whatever ethnicity, we are one. We are all brothers and sisters.” The migrant workers slowly opened up to the people of St. Augustine’s helping them understand their situation even more.

“These people are reminiscent of the Irish and the Italian immigrants. They are sending much of their wages home to Mexico and Guatemala to their families,” Michael said. “They are hard working, young males mostly in their early 20’s. They are delightful guys whose education is limited. But they are nice people. Little by little, we got to know them. There are still some who are uncomfortable because of the language barrier, but they are opening up. People from the parish rolled up their sleeves to help. They wanted to understand.”

Because of the ministry’s success this year, plans for next year are already taking place. A local Wal-Mart store gave the church a $1,000 community grant to be used to help the migrant workers. Michael said a discussion would take place as how to best use the funds.

One of the goals of the group is to have more people fluent in Spanish. Michael hopes a continued breakdown of the language barrier will allow those migrant workers of Catholic or Christian heritage to attend more regular worship services.

“It’s remarkable that these people are here every summer, but we don’t take the time to appreciate them. The migrant workers are easily seen. They are always in the fields. They are hard workers. We eat their apples, pumpkins and tomatoes. A lot of them are leaving now,” Michael said. “We want to invite them to be a part of our community, here in the United States and here in Baldwinsville.”

Father Rose said the church has been called to open its doors to all people.

“One of our parish goals was to reach out to the community, to reach out in faith. We are so blessed. Our resources are not just for us — they are to assist others. We have a responsibility to share with others. That’s a Gospel responsibility,” Father Rose said. “Some of the migrant workers told me, through interpreters, how they feel such a sense of belonging here. At first, they were very standoffish. But we have broken down walls. We don’t want to just do for them, but we want to work with them. We need to be global citizens.”

The St. Augustine parish community hopes other churches and groups in the area will consider helping in coming years with the migrant worker population.

“Once you break down the language barrier, there is so much commonality. Whether it be a shared soccer game, the Eucharist, sharing meals, or sharing a love of animals,” Father Rose said. “When we reach a common ground as people, that’s the kingdom of God.”

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