On Sunday, September 30, 2012, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass to conclude a “day of integration” for migrant workers, organized in conjunction with several parishes by the Office of Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Raleigh. Approximately 500 men, women and children from the area attended the day-long event, which included a mobile health clinic, free haircuts, a clothing exchange, food, a soccer tournament, games for the children, Confessions, and Mass celebrated by the Bishop, with Fr. Carlos Arce, Diocesan Vicar for Hispanics, preaching the homily.
“What a powerful event this was!” said Bishop Burbidge, who toured the camp and greeted people individually before Mass. “The living conditions these workers have to accept are truly deplorable. The laborers are far from home and working incredibly hard in order to provide for their families. Yet their faith is so deep, and their spiritual hunger is so profound. They so obviously love the Lord.”
Before the Mass, several of the workers spoke publicly to the Bishop about their lives, and their hopes and needs. One woman gave a tearful and moving plea for a greater Catholic presence in the camps, especially availability of the sacraments and a way to get to Mass, since the workers are widely scattered and many have no transportation. She also spoke of the laws which prevent immigrants from seeking work in the U.S., the difficulties with borders and the violence in her own country.
Responding to the speakers, the Bishop said, “Thank you! I have heard you asking for three things. One is easy, the other two are difficult.”
The easy request was for prayers. “I assure you that you are in my prayers and the prayers of many of our faithful every day,” the Bishop said, “and that will continue.”
The second request, for a greater Catholic presence in the camps and transportation to Mass, is difficult, the Bishop explained, because the Diocese does not have more priests. But he pointed out that the Diocese now has four Hispanic seminarians, including three studying in Mexico, who, God willing, will eventually serve the Spanish-speaking people in the Diocese. He also pledged to do all in his power to make Mass and the sacraments more available. Fr. Arce currently visits camps as possible every weekend for Mass and to hear Confessions, but the camps are many and far apart and there are no maps to show where they are.
The third request, to change the political situation regarding immigration, is one which the U.S. Bishops are working as hard as they can to fulfill, the Bishop said, by urging those in power to initiate comprehensive immigration reform, and those efforts will continue.
The event, the first of what will be an annual celebration, was months in the planning by the Office of Hispanic Ministry. Mrs. Lettie Banda, a member of the committee that organized the day, said, “We wanted to say to the workers, ‘This is your day in appreciation for all the work you do for us.’ The people are from different camps and don’t know each other, so we wanted them to have a chance to meet and communicate, and to have the Catholic Church there. It was a fun day, but people could also see that we Catholics are there for them.”
Mrs. Banda’s husband made seven round trips in a van to help workers from camps as much as 90 minutes away get to the event. In the morning, another van, supplied by St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Cary, also provided transportation.
“You know many didn’t speak publicly in front of the group,” Mrs. Banda said. “But my husband told me that on the way back to their camps they were happy and grateful for the day, and happy to meet the Bishop. They said, ‘For the first time we feel like humans.’”
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Above: Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrating Mass for migrant workers. Fr. Carlos Arce, Vicar for Hispanics, and Fr. Jaime Restrepo concelebrated. Click photo to view larger.
Above: Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrating Mass for migrant workers under a canopy constructed for the celebration. Click photo to view larger.
Above: Catholic faithful attending the Mass, which was organized by the Diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry and several parishes. Click photo to view larger.
Above: Bishop Burbidge listening to workers who shared their stories, hopes and dreams. Click photo to view larger.