By ELINOR REES, Special Contributor | Published February 24, 2005
In an unheated trailer, in a remote section of Pinewoods Estates South, Father Dayro Rico spoke recently with the workers of the St. Joseph’s Church Charities Office about the center he has established for the religious life of members of the Hispanic community, who inhabit most of the 225 trailers in this park.
A lovely statue of Mary, surrounded by flowers, was brought here from Mexico, he explained, and the residents come to pray in her presence. Father Rico, parochial vicar at St. Joseph Church in Athens, celebrates Mass here once a week, and he uses the space for many religious programs. It is estimated over 200 families in the trailer park are Catholic.
“I am here to teach the spiritual life,” Father Rico said.
The difficulties of assimilating this new wave of immigrants into American culture are many, but Father Rico believes that the church must start with the children. They can learn new ways easiest and establish contacts in the wider community through school and church. He conducts religious education and Bible study classes for children regularly. He shows children religious movies on Monday afternoons and holds youth group meetings on Thursdays. Several University of Georgia students also volunteer regularly to teach the children English.
Father Rico teaches English to parents on Tuesdays and Thursdays, mainly by leading them through simulated life situations like doctor visits or shopping trips. Friday mornings are devoted to women’s issues. Several leaders from their community discuss with them ways of dealing with and avoiding abusive situations. Father Rico explained that, since most of these residents come from Mexican farm country, they have little education but are willing to work hard to better themselves.
In answering some of the concerns expressed by the workers from the Charities Office, Father Rico explained that even though life seems hard for these residents—many of whom have no heat in their homes and have few contacts outside this community—their quality of life now is better than what they left in Mexico. Many of them are persuaded by corrupt border guards, who charge large fees for allowing them into this country, that life will be easy here and they will soon be rich. Those who are successful send most of their earnings back home to encourage other family members to join them here.
Although the St. Joseph workers have agreed to give a portion of their monthly collections to Father Rico for use in this community, he sees the needs as spiritual as well as material. He hopes for greater communication and friendship between parishioners and immigrants, and he will continue to work toward this end.
“We must do good where we can,” he said, “as Jesus did.”
Elinor Rees is a member of the St. Joseph Church Communications Committee.