By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published September 16, 2021 | En Español
ATLANTA—In this year’s message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis explained that Catholics are called to make the church more inclusive.
“In encountering the diversity of foreigners, migrants and refugees, and in the intercultural dialogue that can emerge from this encounter, we have an opportunity to grow as church and to enrich one another,” said the pope.
“The church is called to go out into the streets … heal wounds and to seek out the straying, without prejudice or fear,” said the Holy Father.
Seven priests from various dioceses joined Catholic Extension for a mission immersion program July 27-29, traveling to the Diocese of Yakima in Washington state to visit with migrant workers.
From the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Msgr. Jim Schillinger, coordinator of Ongoing Formation of Priests and Father Gaurav Shroff, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Carrollton, joined the trip.
Since its founding in 1905, Catholic Extension has provided funding and resources to dioceses throughout the United States and other countries. The organization supports poor and often isolated Catholic communities through various means, such as building and repairing church facilities, offering education for men and women religious and helping campus and outreach ministries.
In 2018, Catholic Extension launched the mission immersion program for pastors, which allows them to experience the church in poor areas of the country. This opportunity allows clergy in impoverished communities to share their stories and reminds visiting priests that the church is larger than their own parishes.
“What we love to be able to do is simply take people to places where the church is alive, where it is living the mission in very unique and in very powerful ways,” said Joe Boland, vice president of mission for Catholic Extension.
In his role, Boland has “a front row seat to some of the best things happening in the Catholic Church,” he said. “And that’s a real joy for us to be able to share that with others.”
Bringing the church to others
The Diocese of Yakima is home to an ever-increasing population of migrant workers. Temporary migrants come to Yakima Valley in June for the cherry picking season. After the season, some return home to other parts of the U.S. and others stay to pick apples or pears. Their work is labor intensive, with days beginning as early as 4 a.m.
During the harvest, most migrants stay in temporary camps set up to house individuals and families. These camps are isolated from surrounding communities.
Because the workers have demanding schedules and lack transportation to church, Bishop Joseph Tyson of the Diocese of Yakima initiated a ministry to bring the faith to the workers. Mass is held Wednesday evenings in the camps.
In addition, the Literacy Wagon program, created by the diocese and led by its seminarians, brings books and education to children of these migrant workers during the summer. The program supports as many as 150 children.
“We want our [seminarians] to know that when people can’t come to church, we bring the church to them,” Bishop Tyson said. “We go to the margins. We want to bring the Eucharist to wherever the people are.”
The bishop also serves as a member of the USCCB Committee for Cultural Diversity and chair of the USCCB’s Pastoral Care for Migrants, Refugees and Travelers, a subcommittee.
During the immersion trip, travelers met with Bishop Tyson, seminarians and others from the Diocese of Yakima, spent time and celebrated Mass with migrant workers and helped with the Literacy Wagon program on its last day.
“Being exposed to that world to seeing the incredible organization and coordination that they were doing was very impressing and very inspiring,” said Msgr. Schillinger.
Visiting the diocese and being with migrant workers was a very different experience for Msgr. Schillinger, a priest for nearly 40 years who has spent most of his priesthood in administration. For him, the visit to the Diocese of Yakima was “refreshing.”
“This is what Christ wants us to do, this is why you become a priest, to work with people, to minister to people,” said Msgr. Schillinger.
Father Shroff celebrated Mass with the migrant workers and was able to witness three men receive their first Communion and confirmation.
“It was beautiful to see,” said the pastor. “What stood out was the desire so many of them have to stay close to God and the church, and to really grow in their faith.”
The pastor enjoyed seeing ministry beyond the parish. So much of what we do as a church is to deal with the people that come to us, said Father Shroff.
“They’re actually going out and coming up with creative ways to minister to this population of workers,” said the priest.
Father Shroff was inspired to rethink how parishes form missionary disciples.
Msgr. Schillinger plans to encourage local pastors to attend future immersion mission trips hosted by Catholic Extension.
It’s a good thing for seminarians and priests to enjoy and learn from the experience, he said.
This experience confirmed “the church is alive” for Father Shroff. When the church embraces who she really is, she brings Good News and divine life to people, he said.
For more information on the work of Catholic Extension, visit catholicextension.org.