by Mike McAndrew, C.Ss.R.
I just completed a unique mission at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Chincoteague, VA. The mission began on February 20, when I arrived at the parish to fill in for Fr. Mike Imperial, pastor, who went to Mexico to study Spanish five days later. The plan was for him to study and live with Redemptorists in San Luis, Potosi until a week after Easter. While he was gone, I offered a Lenten Mission – one conference a week – on the Apostolic Exhortations of Pope Francis. By the third week of the mission, COVID-19 changed the world around us. Fr. Imperial returned. After two weeks in quarantine, he was back at the parish just before Palm Sunday.
As churches closed and ministry went online, much has changed. We had to adjust to life in a time of pandemic. Celebrating Masses live on Facebook probably challenged many of us. On Wednesday of Holy Week, Fr. Imperial suggested that I start a Facebook page that identified me as a Redemptorist priest. When he asked about a title for the page, I remembered that an editor for my book, Migrant Faith, once said, “After this book, you will be known as Padre Migrante.” While the name never took, I titled the page “Padre Migrante.” I only had about 100 Facebook friends, and I never posted anything on my personal page. Two hours after launching Padre Migrante, I celebrated a Mass to welcome migrants who were coming to several camps on the Eastern Shore. We tallied more than 2,000 views on the parish and the new Padre Migrante Facebook pages. By that evening, Padre Migrante had received 600 friend requests.
The plan of the mission was to have a training event after Easter for volunteers in ministry with the migrants on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Our plans evolved from training people in light of my 30 years of working with migrants and immigrants to considering “Migrant Ministry in time of COVID-19.” Instead of a training program held at a parish, we prepared a video conference that we called: UNQUARANTINED GRACE.
I have presented training sessions on Migrant Ministry in many contexts based on my ministry experiences in Denver, preaching on bilingual mission teams, ministering in Liberal, KS, serving as Director for Campesino Ministry in Fresno, CA, and working on our mission in the Mississippi Delta. But preparing for this conference was difficult, considering the future of any Church ministry in light of the pandemic. In the few weeks we spent after Fr. Imperial’s return, alternating between presiding at Masses and manning the camera, we heard each other’s reflections of the Easter liturgies. Fr. Imperial began talking about the grace of Jesus not being quarantined, and how we saw grace in the stories of the faith of migrants. Our video production is unpolished, but we had many great responses and the theme resonated.
The media is reporting a lot of dark news about the situation in meat packing houses. On the day of our conference, we knew that two poultry plants in the area were designated as COVID-19 hot spots. Just before we began, we received word of the first death and several hundred confirmed cases in communities that we serve. Yet, our theme – UNQUARANTINED GRACE – was timely in seeing opportunity despite the darkness.
For all my years in Migrant Ministry, we have always spoken of the undocumented as living in the shadows. Now they are considered “essential workers.” Migrants have always lived in hope for a better life in difficult times. Today, they show us a path forward because, for them, grace has always been present in times of crisis.
Watch the UNQUARANTINED GRACE conference at: https://www.facebook.com/watch
Courtesy: Denverlink – update 05.08.20