Many years ago as a young man born and raised in Baltimore, I spent a very different week getting a taste of life in Appalachia, in the mountainous area of eastern Kentucky. Through a wonderful program which the Glenmary Home Missioners still offer, I and about 20 other guys, under the supervision of two skilled Glenmary brothers, worked on improving impoverished homes of several mountain families. Then in the evenings, we participated in wonderful spiritual retreats. Now fast forward 40 years.
Recently, I contacted Glenmary to see if I could volunteer once again. I was warmly invited to take up residence at the rectory and assist in the pastoral ministry. And so I packed my bags and headed south, driving over 700 miles to Holy Family and Divine Savor in Tennessee.
For nearly six weeks, I took the Eucharist to homebound and nursing home parishioners, assisted with R.C.I.A., gave two social justice and peace presentations, and delivered a weekly Scripture reading and sermon on the local country radio station. It was all a very enriching experience of sharing and receiving God’s love.
Every Friday at the Macon County Jail, Fr. Subb, along with a few volunteers including myself, celebrated the Eucharist with 20 prisoners. On several occasions, I traveled to migrant worker camps in Tennessee and Kentucky with Fr. Subb – who for years has traversed many country back roads to befriend and minister to numerous Mexican and Central American farm workers.
During a visit one evening, I asked them to tell me about their work harvesting tobacco. They explained that for 11 hours a day, six days a week, they work non-stop – except for lunch – cutting, stacking, hanging and stripping this hazardous crop – dangerous to workers and users alike.
These poor migrant workers labor so hard in dangerous conditions, because at about $11 an hour, they make 11 times what they would earn back home.
While millions of migrant workers pick our fruits and vegetables, these men – migrant women also work the fields – explained that tobacco was the only farm job available to them.
Although all of these men have legal worker visas, millions of other migrant workers throughout the U.S. remain in the undocumented shadows, partly because the federal government refuses to issue enough worker visas each year.
Comprehensive, fair immigration reform legislation is sorely needed and long overdue.