Priest finds work with Hispanic migrants rewarding
By FATHER ANTONIO JUYA
With much joy I want to bring my fraternal greeting in the name of Christ to all the communities in the Diocese of Charleston.
It is a delight for me to be able to relate the positive experiences of my pastoral work, for the good of my migrant brothers existing in the Charleston area and its surroundings. It is a delight because, during this year, the pastoral work has been advancing rapidly, trying to get into every corner of the area, bringing the message of the Gospel and, with it, our solitary presence for justice.
On the other hand the mission with the migrants is very broad on the level of programs and in the territory, because people are spread out all over the place. That requires the participation of all, especially the parishioners with their priests and the leaders. The majority of the migrants come from very Catholic families and, for that reason, one of their first preoccupations is to look for the church-family. It is there that we have to be ready to open our doors and welcome our brothers, who even though we might not understand their language, we can understand them by our identification as children of God. Day by day the number of Hispanics grows so that by the Sunday celebrations, we have two or three new families. This we know through experience at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in North Charleston where, daily, the community and the spiritual, moral and material needs also grow.
It is necessary to join forces to make a permanent presence with our migrant brothers, because, in their majority they are humble, simple, poor people who need a friendly hand that can show them the true road in life. Many of them arrive full of illusions — the myth of arriving in a country with all the human and spiritual comforts. Nevertheless, many of these illusions are revealed since the conditions of life for the migrants do not correspond to how one should be treated as children of God; it is one thing to be accepted and another to be understood in their priority needs such as the spiritual, cultural, religious, moral, language and customs.
With God’s help and our leaders’ enthusiasm we have begun a very strong task of evangelization with an end to build a community with its own characteristics, cultivating and encouraging all that is proper of the Hispanic culture and learning all that is good of the American culture. This is not an easy task from the cultural diversity standpoint. However, the presence of the living Christ in the midst of his church is a great outstanding wealth that exalts, strengthens, and builds community integration, especially in the poor, in those who have no voice, because the Church should be the voice of those who have no voice (Luke 18:18).
Six ministries are trying to respond to the migrants needs and we are working with them: catechesis, liturgy, family, youth, social ministry and informative ministry; at the same time supported by a very practical program called “RENEW.” This program is reaching every corner and its fruits are becoming very hopeful, mainly in prayer, meditation of the word of God, the fraternal experience and the Eucharist.
Another very important point and a focus of preference has been the attention towards the workers in the fields during the summer as their number exceeds over 1,500. In this Christian exercise we manifest the experience of faith and life; as the Apostle Santiago: “Faith without acts is dead.” I believe that the contemplation and the Christian praxis has flowed in this field. The migrant has to be looked for, visited, listened to with a living presence of the Spirit of Jesus: “I feel sorry for the sheep that are lost without a shepherd.” This has been the challenge for all leaders of the community, both Hispanic and American, in response to their faith and compromise have begun to act in favor of the migrant. This awakening of the communities is beautiful when they discover by themselves their apostolic work and decide to do something for their brothers, especially the poor.
During this year, concrete actions have been: visits to the workers in the fields, Eucharistic celebrations, Sunday Masses for the workers, the presence of groups of American parishioners, especially the parish of the Holy Spirit Church with its priest Father James Parker; the parish of St. Theresa with its priest Msgr. Edward Lofton, and Father Art Dalupang and the parish of St. Thomas, whose parishioners showed up at the workers’ area, bringing joy, enthusiasm, offering their affection, faith, love and sharing. It was a true feast of the church and their presence was really a very beautiful ecclesiastic act for the poor and a sign of true fraternity. The Hispanic Association also opened its doors to this sharing of fraternity. The groups of “RENEW” have shown their presence with their apostolic dynamism, their generosity, their happiness and spirit of faith.
The workers were sent off with a fraternal feast where the music and fellowship were nothing more than the living expression of the Spirit of God among the brothers, living the same faith, hope and charity.
This is the invitation that Jesus gives us in this time and concrete reality, work together for the Kingdom of God. The Gospel does not have to be lived at the margin of a reality, but within that reality, to transform it with a change of attitudes and conduct in the Spirit of Jesus.
I invite you to work for this very beautiful mission that God has placed in our path. It is worthwhile to express our faith from St. Paul’s perspective: “You are all in Christ, and all are children of God thanks to faith. All have been renewed in Christ, because all were given to Christ by Baptism. There is no longer a difference between Jew and Greek, between slave and free man; no difference is made between man and woman; because all of you are one in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-28). It is important to thank God for our ethnic and cultural diversity. We come from many lands, we are a family, we give thanks to God and celebrate our unity in the diversity, that is why the Eucharist is the most beautiful expression of the unity and compromise with the poor.
We invite everyone to place their grain of sand in the Hispanic Pastoral, because we are a diocesan family who is placing solid bases to support this apostulate which grows each day. It is worth giving it all our attention. May Our Lady of Guadalupe help us cultivate that spirit of generosity and giving in favor of the most needy.
Father Antonio Juya is spiritual director of the Hispanic Apostulate at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in North Charleston.