Today is Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the year. For priests it’s also one of the busiest. When I got home from work after two beautiful services at the nursing home (bringing the cross around to each person there, for them to venerate, was one of the holiest things I’ve ever experienced. So much love in so many people) and decorating the chapel for Easter, I was tired and chose to lie down for an hour. When I woke up I suddenly realized – I don’t know the name for the feeling – dismay? Horror? that our friends in the migrant church, who started planting onions this morning at 7:30, still had hours to go. And with nothing like my ability to stop and take a rest when they need one. They expect to have to work on Easter. Having lost two men to deportation last week, they are short of workers, and everyone else has to make up the difference. For the foreseeable future they expect to be working 12 hour days, seven days a week. “If you don’t like it,” they were told, “you can look for work someplace else.”
I had hoped to bring them in to the “Seven Last Words” at Spiritus, tonight, but they won’t be home until 8. So, I’m bringing over a fish fry, and we’ll observe Good Friday with supper together and prayers for those who are on the road.
This morning there were two “Stations of the Cross” around downtown, visiting the places in our city where the poor are crucified daily. One was led by St Joe’s, the other by the GRCC (Greater Rochester Community of Churches, of which we are a member). If we could do a Stations of the Cross for Migrant Farmworkers, here’s what it might look like:
We would start at their damp and tiny house, and notice the enormous jug of clean water that the guys filled at some source outside the house and carried in together, because they don’t trust the water from the tap to drink or cook with. We would notice the lack of privacy, the torn up linoleum, the bare concrete floor in the bathroom, the shower orange with something that won’t come off with hard scrubbing (I tried). We would repent that we accept such housing for our brothers and sisters.
Our second station would be just 200 feet from the house, where two of the guys were stopped by immigration officers last week, four or five cars surrounding them when they pulled out of the driveway. Our men were allowed to leave, because they are already in the system and have court dates. We would pray for the men the ICE officers had expected to catch, that they are safe and well wherever they are, and we would repent of causing our sisters and brothers to live in fear.
Third, we would go to the bodega where our folks punch in at 7:30 am and out at 7:30 pm, and recognize how our government’s removal of two of their number has made their already hard lives even harder. We would repent a system that sees such captures as accomplishments and does not count the human cost.
We would go to the fields, and for a while we would work. We would bend over, planting onions, until our muscles ached and we wept with recognition of the daily realities of our friends, the work that they do that puts food on our tables.
For our fifth station we would go to the migrant health clinic in Brockport, and learn that medication that used to be available for free, now requires a social security number. We would repent the meanness of our government that would deny necessary medication to those without documents. We would repent our ignorance of the indignities faced by our sisters and brothers.
We would go to the Mexican grocery store and ask how often they routinely overcharge their customers, as I was overcharged when I was there. Are they profiting from the simplicity of people who would never think of challenging a receipt as I did? We would weep for the vulnerability of our sisters and brothers, for the ease with which they are exploited.
Seventh, we would stop by Walmart, and repent of the economic systems that have the poor in our country buying products made by the exploited poor in other countries. We would question the systems that keep us all bound, and ask God for help in breaking out of them.
Our eighth station would take us to Buffalo, on the journey that those in the Alternatives to Detention System must take every second week. We would experience the humiliation of proving, yet again, that we are cooperating with the system that oppresses us, showing ID, answering questions, trying to communicate with officials who don’t speak our language.
While in Buffalo we would stop by a school, and grieve for our sisters and brothers who never received basic education, who live with the shame of their ignorance, and weep for the loss of human potential.
Tenth, we would go to immigration court. We would see the fear as people wait to hear their fate, feel the hearts pounding, the anxiety in the breath of each person as they wait to see the judge. We would repent our complicity in a system that excludes those who now try to do exactly what our own ancestors did, to come to the land of opportunity to find a better life.
For our eleventh station we would stop by the little store where the guys and I get coffee after checking in at the immigration office, and, like Jesus having his face wiped by Veronica, give thanks for the little moments of respite that give us the strength to go on.
Twelfth, we would go back to work, to be yelled at for missing time when we went to Buffalo. We would feel the powerlessness of workers with no recourse, no voice, no union, no leverage. We would recommit ourselves to standing with workers, to justice for those who are excluded from labor laws as are farm workers.
We would work again beside our brothers and sisters, and listen to their stories. We would hear of separation from families, of funerals missed, of grandchildren never seen. We would repent of ever summing up the lives of other people with terms like “illegals,” and ask for help in seeing the human face of every person.
Our fourteenth station would be at the grocery store. We would stand in the produce section and realize that every vegetable, every fruit, was planted and picked by human hands, most of them likely undocumented. We would repent our indifference, our blindness, and recognize the holiness of each person and of the work of their hands.
And at the last we would pray and ask, how do we turn this system around and create a way that is life-giving, respectful of human dignity and worth, a system where everyone has reasonable hours, opportunities for rest, a decent place to live, education and health care. How do we get our sisters and brothers down from the cross?
Blessings and love to all,
Join us for Mass Easter morning at 11! If you like, bring something to share for breakfast after Mass.
This Wednesday, April 11, the documentary “After I Pick the Fruit” will be shown at the Sisters of St Joseph Motherhouse on French Rd in Pittsford at 7 pm
Next Sunday, April 15, pancake breakfast for Haiti Catholic Worker program. Mass will be upstairs at St Joe’s. Come and get breakfast and then come to Mass, or vice versa! $5 per person, all you can eat. See you there!
Oscar Romero Church
An Inclusive Community of Liberation, Justice and Joy
Worshiping in the Catholic Tradition
Mass: Sundays, 11 am
St Joseph's House of Hospitality, 402 South Ave, Rochester NY 14620