Right around the time that I was writing the bulletin this past Friday, folks in the migrant ministry were picking up their paychecks. They, and many of their coworkers, got a letter along with their pay. Written in English, the letter explained that immigration authorities had examined the records of the farm, and that they were identified as someone whose papers were in question. In order to remain employed, they would have to come in and prove that they were working legally. 92 people will receive letters like that over the next few weeks.
As I write this on Monday afternoon, I am still in shock. I am remembering the looks on the faces of these dear friends as the reality of the situation sank in. No more work. Some folks are heading south soon, anyway, but for those who must stay here the news is devastating. They are losing their jobs, and will have to leave their homes. Horrible as those homes may be, they are shelter. Children will have to leave school when families relocate. The money they have in their wallets right now is all the income they can expect in the foreseeable future.
It feels like a pogrom. I am reminded of that scene at the end of “Fiddler on the Roof,” when the Jewish residents are being driven out, getting ready to scatter to the four corners of the earth. We human beings do this to each other: scapegoat a group within society, and try to get rid of them, as if they carry all our sins.
It is tempting to blame the farmer in this, but I believe that is a mistake. The evil is in the system. HOW ARE WE GOING TO CHANGE THIS FILTHY, ROTTEN SYSTEM??? I talked with the farmer on Saturday, to find out if my reading of the situation was correct, that everyone would be out of work and out of their homes. She told me that ICE has been pressuring her for weeks to do this. She and other farmers have been trying to prevent this, she said, but to no avail. Apparently it’s not just this one farm. She did say that people will have time to look for another place to live, although work stops immediately.
Last night I stopped by the house where most of our community lives. They were not expecting a knock at the door, so I called through a hole in the door, “Es la pastora!” and they let me in. Some one in the house reads English well enough to decipher that document, and they had already realized what it would mean. We stood talking for about an hour. There was a lot I couldn’t understand, but I told them I was praying for them. Then I remembered a bag of clothes that Al Reinhardt had sent them. It was in a corner, and as I suspected, the person I’d given it to had forgotten to tell the others. So we hauled out the bag and went through it. Coats, hats, shirts: there was something for everyone. We passed around the clothes. One young man tried on a coat, and put the hood on upside down. We all laughed, and he kept the coat on even though they had the heat up in the 80’s. Another young man got a lot of shirts and a stylish coat and hat, and we told him how guapo (handsome) he looked. A man went into his room to get a pair of gloves he had, to see if anyone could use them. Everybody got something, if only a hat, and in the end everything was distributed except a pair of pants that fit no one, which I will bring over to St Joe’s. The conversation grew lighter and more hopeful. At one point everyone laughed. I didn’t get the joke but I think it was about a dog. They started thinking through some of the practicalities of moving on. How will we handle the phone for calling in to immigration every month? I assured them that the church would take care of it and get it set up in the new house, wherever that will be. (Note their hope that there will be a new house). Finally, we made a plan for our last Mass of the season. They asked that we meet early this Thursday, so that there will be daylight and we can bless the cars before they head south. We talked about how we need to pray together at a time like this.
In this moment of fear, shock and uncertainty, we experienced community. We shared information, and clothing. We laughed. We gave each other hope. You were part of that, with your prayers and donations. We make a circle of light, and you know what we Christians believe about the Light: it shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
I do not know what the coming weeks will hold. Please pray – for this little community, for all the 92 put out of work, for the children and spouses who depend on their income. Pray for the farmer. Pray for the immigration officials. Jesus said to, remember? “Love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you.” Pray for me, please, as I walk with them.
Blessings and Love to all,
"When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.” – Oscar Romero
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