‘They feed us, we feed them’
Jose Luis Ramirez Aparicio finished work on a dairy farm in time to attend a special Mass at St. Peter Church in Vergennes: A member of his migrant farm worker community was receiving three sacraments: baptism, confirmation and First Communion.
It was an important day for young Azul Milena Aburto who arrived at the church dressed in a white dress and veil. Members of her family took photographs of her on the front lawn before going inside for the Mass — celebrated in Spanish.
It’s important for the farm workers to attend Mass in their native language because most do not speak English. Although they can follow along with the order of the Mass, they especially mind not understanding the homily.
Aparicio said through a translator that he feels “more connected to God” when he attends Mass in Spanish, and he likes to listen to homilies given by priests who speak his language.
Thanks to a Pizzagalli grant from the Vermont Catholic Community Foundation, Masses now are celebrated monthly for the Addison County migrant farm workers and their families; such celebrations were more sporadic in the past.
“They are isolated from the general community. To reach out to them is a mission of the Church,” said Patty Lewis, chair of the Catholic Migrant Ministry of Addison County. “It’s important to meet their spiritual needs.”
Dominican Father Timothy Danaher, director and chaplain of Aquinas House at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, has been ministering to members of this Spanish-speaking community for about a year; sometimes Edmundite Father Marcel Rainville from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, celebrates the sacraments for them.
Father Danaher said it is important for him to be present to this community and to minister in both word and sacrament.
Since he began coming to Vermont for the regularly scheduled Masses in Spanish — a ministry he said gives him great joy — more members of the Spanish-speaking community have sought sacraments for themselves and their children.
Alejandra Perez, the mother of the girl who received three sacraments May 11, said through a translator that she wants her daughter “to be in touch with God and to belong to the Catholic Church.”
And through the ministry, the Spanish-speakers have both their spiritual and social needs met; they have a gathering with refreshments after the Masses.
“This is a way to show our gratitude” to the workers “who are doing work no one else wants to apply for,” said committee member Faith Parkins, a parishioner of Our Lady of Good Help Church in Brandon.
Camila Blanco, also a member of Our Lady of Good Help who helps with the ministry, said there is a “history in the area of a huge divide between the Hispanics and the locals,” so the Masses are a way to “bring the two worlds together.”
About 50 people usually attend the monthly Spanish Masses; some of them are local parishioners. (Father Danaher alternates between Spanish and English during his homily.)
“Part of our mission as Christians is to love our neighbor and help those who help us. [The migrant workers] tend our animals and fields. We rely on them,” Blanco said.
“They feed us [physically]. We feed them [spiritually],” Father Danaher said.
—Originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.