ENFIELD, Conn. (CNS) — In summertime, tobacco grows practically like a weed under white nets and in open fields throughout the tobacco valley of central Connecticut.
Near the end of June, when the plants are about knee-high, migrant workers who have journeyed thousands of miles by bus from Mexico and beyond, or by air from Puerto Rico, start arriving for three-month jobs cultivating the crop on Connecticut farms. And with their arrival, St. Patrick Parish continues its long-standing Hispanic ministry program to cultivate their faith.
Every Monday night from late June through August, two school buses pick up 100 men or more at their camp in Windsor to take them to Mass and a meal at St. Patrick.
Though its efforts are centered on providing bus transportation to the weekly Mass and meal, the ministry offers a wide range of services to this temporary migrant community each season. Perhaps chief among them is the evangelical work of preparing many of the workers to receive the sacraments of initiation, an event that has become an annual celebration at St. Patrick.
Retired Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza of Hartford administered the sacrament of confirmation to six of the men and first holy Communion to 27 men at a Mass July 22, with assistance from Father John Weaver, St. Patrick’s pastor, and Father Jose Siesquen-Flores, of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Springfield, Mass., the ministry’s regular celebrant and homilist for the Spanish-language Mass.
Started 15 years ago by the late Father Francis Browne, then pastor at St. Patrick, the seasonal outreach now represents only a small part of the work of a full-time ministry.
Since Father Browne drove the first bus himself, several pastors, including Father Weaver, have supported the program. Over those years, the parish has embraced and spread the faith to thousands of men by supporting their commitment to faith and family while they work to send money home.
Father Browne’s inspiration in 1998 to establish the program came from a parishioner from Mexico, Noe Charles, who has nurtured the ministry’s expansion and now serves as the parish’s minister to Hispanics.
Charles, who also drove a bus to and from the tobacco camps during the first seasons, recalled that her personal experience around her home in Guadalajara, Mexico, made her compassionate toward needy farmworkers there. She translated that need to the men working near her Connecticut parish each summer.
Father Weaver, St. Patrick’s pastor for seven years, said he places full trust in Charles to manage all Hispanic ministry programs.
“She is incredibly versatile. Noe performs the job descriptions for 10 different people,” he told The Catholic Transcript, newspaper of the Hartford Archdiocese.
Charles said her work is made possible through the efforts of many people. For example, an annual Lenten outreach program conducted by religious education director Carolyn Dague encourages children and families to donate personal-care goods for distribution among summer camp workers. The toiletries, clothing, shoes, linens and religious items are distributed weekly.
Ministry volunteers say that Charles is known and loved by the workers for what she does at the camp and church. Many keep in touch with her and renew acquaintance on return visits. Worker Juan Guerrero, who arrived from Mexico City with a group of 200 men, called her “an angel.”
On a recent Monday, he spoke to the Transcript in Spanish with translation assistance from Arturo Iriarte, parish social ministry coordinator for the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry.
Returning for his second season in Connecticut, Guerrero said that the Monday night Mass is very important to him while he’s away from home.
The sermon Father Siesquen-Flores delivered at the July 22 Mass centered on “la familia Cristiana” (the Christian family) and the merits of humility, compassion and love.
At the conclusion of the Mass, the priest invited the congregation to process to the rear of the church, where he led veneration of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Bray is a correspondent for The Catholic Transcript, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.