Ministering to migrants in a carport cathedral

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Glenmary Home Missioners celebrate Mass with migrant workers in a carport

The Eucharist is always a mutual gift, breaking bread and sharing cup, a holy communion of God and God’s people. It marks a two-way moment of dignity and respect among the Mexican workers and the American residents as the words of the Last Supper resonate: “I will not abandon you.” 

ON A MID-AUGUST DAY, a tiny caravan sets out from small-town Plymouth, North Carolina for an hour’s drive across soy fields, then salty marshes to an isolated seafood processing plant near the Atlantic coast. Today the men and women who live and work at Mattamuskeet Seafood will celebrate the Eucharist. For many years, any Mass at all has been a rarity for these Mexican seasonal workers in a Catholic-minority area.

Glenmary Home Missioners serving in the area have taken on this mission within a mission, now coming twice monthly. Today it’s two SUVs, two priests, and a handful of parishioners from their parishes, 80 families combined across two counties. They are doing what Catholic missionary priests, brothers, and sisters do, both home and abroad. As Pope Francis says, they are “going to the peripheries.”

fields in the countryside
Holy Spirit Catholic Church sign
WE'RE IN THE COUNTRY: Small towns and an occasional small city are scattered among thousands of acres of soy, rotated in other seasons with peanuts and cotton in this home mission territory where the Glenmarys serve. Put together, the Glenmary religious orders include priests, brothers, laity, and sisters. This church billboard, by Highway 17, shows how a local Catholic church frequently starts—worshipping in the shared facility of a friendly Protestant neighbor.
Workers in a crab processing plant
Workers in a crab processing plant

FAST AND DANGEROUS: Crab processing is rapid, skilled labor, extracting fresh meat with small, razor-sharp knives and moving it quickly to refrigeration. The boats come to shore in early morning, truckloads of crabs are brought a mile in from the docks, and the work begins. Some workers haul the crabs in and the empty shells out in 32-gallon drums; others rapidly harvest the crabmeat. Pay is an hourly wage plus piece-rate—the fastest workers send the most money back home. By midafternoon the work is finished. And if the catch is slow, there is downtime on the grounds, 2,000 miles from home. 

Glenmary Fathers Richard Toboso and José Carlos Miguel López vest for Mass among chicken coops and mobile homes.
“LET US PRAY”: A carefully covered picnic table will be the altar today, as Glenmary Fathers Richard Toboso and José Carlos Miguel López vest for Mass among chicken coops and mobile homes. Crucifix, chalice, and paten are from the portable Mass kit—here, small is beautiful.
A carport cathedral
You could call it a carport cathedral, where the people—workers, priests, lay visitors—will bring their hopes, dreams, and struggles in joyous song to the Lord’s table. 
Glenmary Father José Carlos
Today, before this Feast of the Assumption Mass, Glenmary Father José Carlos, Mexican American, ordained in 2021, speaks to the people about the feast and the Blessed Mother, who appeared to Saint Juan Diego as a native adorned in gold. In his homily he speaks of Mary’s Magnificat, her joy and openness: “My spirit rejoices in God, my savior . . . he has lifted up the lowly . . . he has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:46-55)
Small children sit on the steps of a home
FEAST FOR ALL: two young ones have found the “pews in the back,” as they share in the energy of the day’s events—and bring a little of their own!
María Dolores Cerino García, has a big smile today at the Sign of Peace
A leader among the workers, María Dolores Cerino García, has a big smile today at the Sign of Peace—God is present in the people, in word, in sacrament. It’s Glenmary’s hope to bring the fullness of Catholic faith to God’s people. After Mass the sharing will continue. The missioners and parishioners have brought gifts of food and supplies to share; the workers have a gift in return, a wonderful meal of Mexican specialties and hours of fellowship. If only for a few hours, community pushes isolation aside. The widow’s mite is given, from each in her or his own way. God, too, must be smiling.
John Feister
John Feister is a longtime Catholic journalist and winner of the Saint Francis De Sales Award. He is the Glenmary Home Missioners’ communications/marketing coordinator and assistant editor of Glenmary Challenge, Photos © Glenmary Home Missioners. Reprinted with permission.




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