st anthony claret parish in fresno california is a special place. since we were on the far south side of the city, there were farms just blocks from the church. many of our parishioners were spanish speaking farmworkers. for the most part, they are hardworking, humble folks who want what we all want: to pay the rent, be safe, good education for their kids and to live and celebrate life in peace.
one of my favorite ministries at st anthony claret was the campesino (farmworker) ministry. there were about 18 total leaders and most of them gathered every monday night to pray, eat, share and plan for the upcoming week. they went to eight farmworker communities in the area. their focus was always service for their brothers and sisters in the fields. some leaders lived and worked on the farms themselves; others in low paying jobs in fresno. the care, selflessness and joy that these leaders had always humbled me. i would enjoy their spirit and the various things they wanted me to be part of as the pastor and priest.
i get emotional thinking about farmworkers. my father came to the mainland from the northern philippines in 1927 with the other “manongs”. he followed the harvest to pick fruits and vegetables in central california up into oregon and washington ( as well as worked the canneries in alaska and the railroads in montana) until he joined the u.s. coast guard in 1935. as i drove through the central valley california, i often thought, “dad could have worked in these fields right here.” in the summer with the temperature well over 100 degrees, it does not take much imagination to understand how extremely difficult this work is.
i have been thinking about farmworkers everytime i see a current kroger (grocery) commercial. in thirty seconds, it shows appreciation to the essential workers who help bring food to our tables during the pandemic. we have new eyes and come to appreciate and thank the folks who stock the shelves at the supermarket. but it seems that some people are more essential than others– especially when it helps krogers’ image and bottom line.
the people who work in the fields, the packing houses and dairies either go unnoticed or get a brief nod when a coronavirus– or any–story comes up. we notice if the production lines stop. at worse, they are dehumanized as “illegals” and blamed as scapegoats to the decline of american culture and way of life. and they are providing essential food for us.
farmworkers are MORE essential now than ever! they are suffering more now than ever because of the pandemic.
the black lives matter movement shines a needed light on the area of racism– especially in policing in our african american communities. in race relations, we ought to resist being part of anything that promotes violence and death. the fruit, vegetable and dairy farms are another areas where racism shows its ugly and sinful self. our brown brothers and sisters are exploited and treated as less than human in the fields, packing houses and dairies; do not have a highly visible movement to raise awareness in the news. out of sight, out of mind. collectively, we yawn if we hear news about them and their plight…
my prayer today is:
Lord, help us all have eyes that really see the essential workers who labor for us all– especially our brothers and sisters in the fields and packing houses. may we have a change of heart toward treating them as we would want to be treated. protect them and keep them safe Lord. may your Spirit give us the will to care for their well being and truly see them as our brothers and sisters. may our public officials advocate for them at all levels.
may all who minister with them– especially at st anthony claret parish– be witnesses of the compassionate love of Jesus. together, may we know your providential care, continuing help and strength, and joy of life.
through the intercession of st anthony claret and the immaculate heart of Mary, lead us toward your will to love these brothers and sisters who are often hidden from our sight.
Well said, Fr. Art. I also came from a family of farmers (south Texas), and I’ve seen how hard they work in relentless conditions. Essential workers, indeed!
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