New Faces in Rural Ministry
Recent immigrants to rural areas are stepping up to assume leadership roles in mission churches
by Father Vic Subb
The United States is becoming increasingly multicultural. The rural area where I minister in South Georgia is no exception.
On any given Sunday, people representing 10 different countries, from India to Colombia, come together to worship at our small parish, Holy Trinity, in Swainsboro.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, immigrants to America often brought their priests with them. Not so with 21st-century immigrants, most of whom come from south of our border.
It is not uncommon to read about how these new immigrants are draining U.S. Church resources. But I have seen how effectively they minister to each other. I am blessed to have lay leaders in my missions who served the Church in their native countries-and now are serving the Church in their new land as well.
Here are profiles of five of the new faces ministering in the missions of South Georgia:
Alejandro is from Oaxaca, Mexico. For the last two years he has worked at the local chicken plant, but his real love is spreading the Word of the Lord.
His village in Mexico did not have a resident priest; their pastor was responsible for 70 churches. He needed help, and Alejandro responded.
Every Friday Alejandro would travel to the main church in the largest town in the area-a trip that took four hours by foot. All day Saturday the pastor would train Alejandro and the other "Bearers of the Word" in the Sunday readings. Then the pastor would commission them to return home and share the Word at Communion services. On Alejandro's trek home, he would stop to hold services in three or four villages along the way. In all, he was responsible for services in 14 villages.
Today, Alejandro still serves the Church-but now his focus is the small town of Stillmore, Ga., where he lives along with 400 other workers in the local chicken plant. Each Sunday, he and Glenmary multicultural worker Sister Pat Himmer gather a group in the town hall to study Scripture. Over the past two years, he has also prepared more than 75 adults and children for First Communion. On the Sundays when I cannot come to celebrate Mass in Stillmore, Alejandro leads a Word and Communion Service.
There is no church building in Stillmore, but there is Church-thanks to Alejandro, one of the most dedicated catechists I have ever met.
Dora can be found 35 miles away in the small town of Portal, preparing a class for children, leading an adult Bible study or teaching a baptism preparation class for the Spanish-speakers who live in her trailer park. She and her husband, Marcos, have lived in the United States for six years. Last year they organized the people of their trailer park to unite against unfair rental charges by their landlord. With the encouragement of Sister Pat, they have become leaders of the Church in Metter, as well as strong representatives of the Church in the Portal community.
Joaquin, who lives in Wadley, can often be found looking for a ride to Swainsboro 20 miles away. Each Saturday he volunteers to play guitar at the Spanish Mass in Metter. On Sunday he will show up again to play at the 2 p.m. Mass in Stillmore and at the 6 p.m. Mass in Swainsboro.
Joaquin is driven by his faith and the promise he made to our Blessed Mother: that for safe passage on his journey to the United States, he would serve the Church with his musical talents. He can often be seen before Mass learning a new hymn or teaching another to play the guitar.
Joaquin looks forward to going home to San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and to his wife and four children. Until then, he makes a joyful sound to the Lord.
Rosa, for 38 years, has called the United States home after leaving her native Mexico. She and her husband, Arturo, are raising three teenage daughters. The family can be found each Saturday in the second pew in Metter.
Rosa has been a catechist and a eucharistic minister for many years. Whenever there is a parish social or activity, Rosa and Arturo are busy planning, setting up, or cleaning afterward. Always there, they are respected leaders in the community.
Al offers his services to interpret and help the Hispanic community of Swainsboro in many ways. Born and raised in Cuba, he has lived in Swainsboro with his wife, Ann, for many years. People know that Al will help anyone.
After the 6 p.m. Spanish Mass, he can usually be found helping someone with a legal form, an insurance matter or a medical question. He transports people to hospitals, doctors' and lawyers' offices, and he will accept no recompense.
"I don't charge," Al will tell you. "I have received so much from the Lord!"
The following story appeared for the first time in the Spring 2005 Glenmary Challenge.