For seven months a year Samuel Ramírez (pictured above) works on a farm in central North Carolina. His wife and five children spend that same time, from May to November, in their hometown of Ciudad del Maíz, in the state of San Luis Potosí (Mexico).
The 2,000-mile separation can be tough. The same is true of the labor. But Mr. Ramirez is glad for the work experience, which comes with 12-hour days and six-day work weeks.
While Sunday is often his day for rest, Sunday, Aug. 27, held special meaning for him and 249 other migrant farm workers from 19 camps. They gathered with 90 volunteers representing seven parishes at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Newton Grove to participate in the sixth annual Catholic Encounter for Farm Workers.
“I like to attend it,” Mr. Ramírez, a third-year participant, said. “At a personal level, the Mass is the most important part for me.”
The event included the sacrament of Reconciliation and catechesis, or religious teaching, centered on the Gospel of the day and the motto of Pope Francis’ Nov. 19 World Day of the Poor: ‘Let us love, not with words but with deeds.’
In addition to spiritual needs, organizers focused on the practical needs of farm workers, too, including haircuts and a bag with personal care items. Sport and recreational activities were part of the encounter as well.
“Many of them come attracted by soccer,” Mr. Ramírez smiled. “There are three teams just from my camp!”
About 75 migrant farm workers sought basic medical care from a volunteer team of eight doctors and seven nurses. Mr. Ramírez, whose knees had been bothering him, was one of the patients.
The day’s events centered around food, and volunteers from St. Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in Garner started cooking breakfast at 5 a.m. in order to make it available to those arriving at 8 a.m. Volunteers, who spent hours in the kitchen and at the grill, prepared a lunch of grilled beef, rice, beans and pasta salad.
Thankful for a nice breeze and 80-degree temperature, many participants rested on the parish’s lawns, and some volunteers brought their families.
Husband and wife Julio Arévalo and Mirna Andrade, from St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Raleigh, regularly visit one of the camps where workers live. This was the second year they also helped with the encounter. With their three children in tow, they sat and watched soccer.
“This event is beautiful … we enjoy it,” Mr. Arévalo said.
A few yards away, 43-year-old Carlos Medina also enjoyed the pleasant afternoon. A native of Tepoztlán, in the Mexican state of Morelos, Mr. Medina has been coming to work in North Carolina for 15 years. This was his third encounter.
“We were invited by a priest three years ago,” he explained. “We received a very friendly welcome, and it was a really nice day.”
Mr. Medina said that he values the opportunity to spend time with his fellow workers and meet new people.
The encounter concluded with a Mass celebrated in the church by Father Carlos Arce. In his homily, Father Arce focused on the question that Jesus asked his apostles in the the Gospel: “But who do you say that I am?"
“Jesus does not care much about what others say,” he said. “Jesus wants for each one of us to give our own answer.”
Father Arce also connected with the motto of the upcoming First World Day of the Poor, saying that Jesus asks another question: “What does it mean to love truly and with facts?”
“Pope Francis has invited us to love with deeds,” he reminded workers. “Words change … [they] are often gone with the wind.”