Delegates hope farmworkers’ voices, struggles will be heard at V Encuentro

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Part of Lupe Cervantes’ ministry at St. Joseph Parish in Wautoma, Wisconsin, is to reach out to migrant and seasonal farmworkers who often lack an immigration status, which he says, makes them vulnerable to isolation, abuse and other struggles.

Lupe Cervantes, Hispanic Ministry leader and encuentro delegate for the Diocese of Green Bay, participates in the Region 7 Encuentro, June 8-10, at Notre Dame University. Part of his ministry is to reach out to migrant and seasonal farm workers. (CNS photo/Norma Montenegro Flynn)

Cervantes is a Hispanic ministry leader participating in the Fifth National Encuentro process as a delegate for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

“They’re not coming to church because the Masses are not in their language and they have a hard time understanding English, so they choose not to come. We’re really in need of more ‘padres’ that are bilingual and bicultural,” said Cervantes.

He hopes, like some of his fellow ministry leaders, that an increase in priests who understand the language and culture in his area would attract more Hispanic immigrants to the church.

Reaching out to migrant farmworkers and other people on the peripheries through missionary disciples, like Cervantes, is one of the goals of the V Encuentro process, as it also is known.

Migrant farmworkers in the U.S. Catholic Church’s episcopal Region VII — which includes Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois — are predominantly from Mexico, and some are from countries in Central America.

They often find work opportunities in agriculture, dairy farms, or meatpacking plants, and while some come to the United States with visas, others do not and move from region to region according to work opportunities. They usually work in the fields in this area from June to November.

They are a community difficult to reach, often kept isolated, explained Enid Roman, director of Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Region VII encuentro chair. She said that they often work 12- to 14-hour shifts under physically strenuous situations and live in poor housing conditions.

“As a church we also need to get to them and see who is being evangelized, who needs sacraments,” Roman said.

When ministry volunteers can reach out, they find these farmworkers often are in need of food, medical services, catechism and the sacraments, added Roman.

At the Region VII encuentro, held June 8-10 at the University of Notre Dame University in South Bend, Cervantes joined the small group session on immigration with the hope that through the V Encuentro, their voice and struggles can be heard.

“The biggest challenge is persecution by federal authorities,” said Cervantes, referring to fears of raids and deportations that separate families.

They earn the minimum wage, making it very difficult to support families with three or four children, said Roman. And if they complain, they’re often threatened that they will be reported to immigration authorities, added Cervantes.

Listening to the struggles, challenges and aspirations of Hispanics in the church and those on the margins is one of the main goals of the National Fifth Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, through its process of mission, consultation and community building. The process also seeks to establish ways in which the Catholic Church can respond to the Hispanic presence in parishes around the country.

Over the past 18 months, 145 dioceses have held diocesan encuentros, and about 100 bishops and 5,500 regional delegates have participated in 14 regional encuentros, according to an update delivered during the U.S. bishops’ spring general assembly June 13-14 by Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs.

The Fifth National Encuentro gathering will be Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas.