By Mary Lou Harrison
Imagine spending up to eight months a year working far from home, away from family and friends. Imagine, in particular, how it would feel to spend a day such as Fathers’ Day apart from loved ones.
This scenario is a fact for thousands of migrant workers, from a number of countries, who make Canada their home during the spring, summer and fall. It is also a reality that the Rev. Hernan Astudillo and his congregation at San Lorenzo, Dufferin Street, are trying to change.
On Fathers’ Day, they brought 200 Spanish-speaking agricultural workers — about 180 men and 20 women — from St. Catharines to San Lorenzo for mass, followed by a meal and a community celebration. “It breaks my heart, because during the offertory, each person could share their feelings,” says Mr. Astudillo. One wrote, “I am a father, too, and I would like to be with my children and my wife.’” Others, he said, wrote about missing parents and being worried about relatives who were ill at home.
Despite these public expressions of pain and distress, Mr. Astudillo says that the people who attended the Fathers’ Day service were very happy to participate in the mass, to enjoy fellowship at a special meal prepared by the women of the parish, and also to make a personal connection with some of the people they had heard on the radio. Radio Voces Latinas is a Spanish-speaking radio station that operates out of the San Lorenzo’s rectory and broadcasts its church services. The workers listen to the services every Sunday and to the radio station while they are in the fields.
The Fathers’ Day service is not the end of the story. Working with partners such as Pablo Godoy, an organizer with the Agriculture Workers Alliance, Mr. Astudillo and his church will expand their outreach to the migrant worker community in St. Catharines and the surrounding area by offering them two Spanish language services a month, one at San Lorenzo and the other in St. Catharines. The first service in St. Catharines will be held on July 10 in conjunction with the inauguration of a Spanish-speaking community centre. It will be an outdoor service, as organizers are still looking for a local church to host the monthly services.
Inspired by their patron, San Lorenzo, who said that “the poor are the treasures of the church,” Mr. Astudillo and his church are proud to serve migrant agricultural workers, and they feel called to this ministry. “I see the beautiful face of Jesus in these people and in the hearts of our community workers like Pablo Godoy,” he says.
Mr. Astudillo is deeply appreciative of the Anglican Church and of the support of his area bishop, Bishop Philip Poole. “Some people who are immersed in the Anglican Church don’t always see how wonderful it is,” he says, “but I see it.”
Do you have a used bicycle you would like to donate? Bikes are needed to help the workers attend church services in St. Catharines. To donate, call 416-782-2953.