WILLARD—Migrant workers in the Willard area now have a ride to Mass each Sunday thanks to the efforts of Willard St. Francis Xavier parishioners.
Hispanic parishioners raised money to purchase a bus to pick up workers from area migrant camps for the weekly 12:30 p.m. Spanish Mass.
Soledad Martinez, left, and Rosendo Lopez, board Willard St. Francis Xavier’s new bus after the Spanish Mass July 15. The bus is being used to provide migrants workers with rides to Mass. (Chronicle photo by Andrea Slivka)
“It’s a miracle we have a bus,” says parishioner Sandra Iracheta. “We’ve all worked so hard to get where we are now.”
Parishioner Elivier Cuevas, who works for a Head Start program for migrant children, says when she visited migrants’ homes, she learned families were not receiving the sacraments.
“We started asking, ‘Why don’t you go to church?’ They said, ‘We don’t have transportation,’ ” she says.
To raise money for a bus, a committee of Hispanic parishioners organized annual parish festivals, called Kermes, beginning in 2009. A Kermes is a traditional Mexican way of raising money for needed church repairs or items, says festival organizer Eduardo Sanchez. This year's Kermes festival was July 22.
“What’s interesting here is the initiative is by the Hispanic community,” says Father Michael Diemer, associate director of Hispanic Ministries for the Diocese of Toledo.
Many migrant workers cannot drive because they do not have licenses, he notes.
After four years of planning and fundraising, enough money was raised to purchase a former school bus. The bus cost $1,750 with an additional $3,500 in repairs and upgrades. Parishioners are to continue organizing fundraisers to cover operating expenses.
Migrant workers, including Soledad Martinez and his family, began riding the bus in July. Mr. Martinez says he had to sell his car and may not have been able to take his family to Mass without the bus.
“Thank you for every single bit of money for the bus,” he said through a translator.
In addition to transportation, the bus provides an opportunity to evangelize and attract the migrant workers back to Mass, Fr. Diemer says. Protestant churches have attracted many area migrant workers because they provide transportation and other services to them.
As a former migrant worker, Ms. Iracheta says she knows first-hand that it is difficult for migrant children to receive catechesis and sacraments. Growing up, her family traveled from Florida to Willard to work in the fields. She didn’t receive the sacraments until she was almost 15, she says.
“If we don’t help out, they (migrant workers) change religions or they just don’t come and the family doesn’t get the sacraments,” she says.
In addition to providing rides to Mass, the bus is to be available for other church and school functions.
Fr. Diemer is recruiting licensed volunteers to drive the bus and is working toward obtaining a commercial driver’s license so he can drive the bus when no volunteers are available.