The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 6, 2000 Issue
Local News

Diocese ministering to Hispanic Catholics

For more than 35 years, the diocese has served

By Joanne Flemming
Compass Correspondent

Migrant workers in the Wautoma area say they are grateful they can attend weekly Masses in Spanish at St. Joseph Parish in Wautoma, but they are confused as to why they have a different priest each week.

While the workers wonder why one priest is not consistently assigned to them, they "accept whatever comes. Whoever is here, we appreciate him," said Luz O'Matta, 72, of Coloma.

Formerly migrant workers, O'Matta and her husband, Guadalupe "Wally", serve as lay ministers in central Wisconsin migrant camps. Her comments about the Spanish Masses point out that migrant workers face many of the same problems the rest of the church faces. They, too, see the effects of the priest shortage.

Rudy Pineda, diocesan consultant for Hispanic pastoral ministry, says the Green Bay Diocese has had an active Hispanic ministry for more than 35 years. Many of the migrant workers it ministered to in the 1950s and 1960s have become permanent state residents.

Such was the case with the O'Mattas who came to the Wautoma area in the 1960s from Texas. They have lived there for more than 30 years. When they came, O'Matta said, they had to search out or help start services for migrant workers. They attended in English before they found Spanish Masses.

Now they are sharing what they learned with new groups of migrants coming to Wisconsin. Most of the new groups are both American-born and foreign-born and come from Texas' Rio Grande Valley, said O'Matta and Pineda. A 1997 U.S. Department of Labor survey said the second largest group of American-born are Hispanic. Mexicans make up 94% of the foreign-born.

Pineda believes migrant workers will continue to come north and from other Southwest states besides Texas. He predicted that the diocese could be one-fourth to one-third Hispanic by 2010. Smaller groups are coming in from other Latin American countries and from Asia. O'Matta said her husband had seen a group of Hmong migrants near Wautoma.

Pineda defined "migrant worker" as "a person who comes to work in a given field of endeavor for maybe six months, then goes back to where he/she came from."

The migrants don't just work in agriculture or canneries any more. Some work in paper mills and construction, Pineda said. Many employers are seeking migrants to fill out the current worker shortage in a booming economy.

"Their work ethic is really something most employers appreciate," Pineda said. "They dedicate themselves to the job and to doing it well."

He and O'Matta listed some of the problems the new migrants face - no knowledge of jobs, lack of papers, lack of transportation, and lack of English.

O'Matta and her husband regularly visit four camps in the Wautoma area alone or with other volunteers. They go after 5 p.m. when the workers have come from the fields and help out wherever they can. O'Matta said they take food and clothing and pray with the people. She has shown new arrivals how to work in the fields.

When workers needed papers this summer, the O'Mattas participated in a caravan that brought workers to Green Bay to meet with the Mexican consul, who helped more than 600 people.

Parents' inability to speak English, he continued, has led to problems with the children. Outsiders treat the children as family leaders because they speak English. Because their parents don't, children have lied to them about what is happening around them.

To meet the migrants' spiritual needs, whether they are migrants or permanent residents, the diocese has five centers - St. Willebrord in Green Bay, St. Gabriel in Neenah, St. Mary in Omro, St. Joseph in Wautoma, and St. Joseph in Alverno near Manitowoc. The centers offer Spanish Masses, ranging from once a month to several times on a Sunday. Priests who speak Spanish have taken on the Hispanic ministries, but some drive miles to help with Masses, Pineda said.

Volunteers who speak Spanish have gone out to camps to teach religious education classes. However, said O'Matta, the volunteers are getting older. When they can no longer do the work or when they die, there are no younger people to replace them. Younger people are concerned with their own lives and work.

Pineda said some parishes have created collaborative ministries. They register the migrants who have become residents and provide them with religious education in their home communities. Pineda said the ministries are growing, particularly in Green Bay and that there is a need for more parishes to get involved.

What the future will hold, he didn't predict. Like the rest of the diocese, the migrants will be affected by parishes merging or closing and by the priest shortage. When they ask about the priests, Pineda reminds them the solution lies in their own families, that they should encourage their sons to consider the priesthood.

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