Mass for those who spend long days picking blueberries

On June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist, the Black Catholic Ministry Commission of the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation sponsored the third annual Mass of welcome for the Haitian farm workers.
These workers (including families with young children) travel each year up from Florida to harvest blueberries in New Jersey during June and July and live in the migrant labor camps of Hammonton. They travel up and down the migrant stream in vans and buses operated by migrant crew leaders.
Their work day often begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. They stoop and pick the blueberries and are paid by the bucket. While parents are working in the fields, their young children (12 and under) attend a summer program for migrant and homeless children operated by Gloucester County Special Services.
This year, Father Fizner Vaillant, a Haitian-born priest who serves in the Dominican Republic, was brought by the Diocese of Camden to minister to the farm workers during the June and July harvest.
In his homily he talked about the dignity of their work as laborers in the fields who bring food to our tables. He also talked about God’s call for us to live out our baptisms each and every day.
“There are so many images and moments I’ll remember for a long time – clothes drying on lines just a few feet from the altar – full-throated singing in Creole that I attempted to join. It was a privilege to be there,” said Michael Jordan-Laskey, director of Life and Justice, Diocese of Camden.
The liturgy was prepared by the farm workers under the guidance of Father Yvans Jazon of St. Monica Church of Atlantic City. The farm workers have organized their own choir and sing in their Haitian Creole dialect.
Black Catholic Ministry Commission member Earline Woodson recalls, “These are a people whose love of God and unwavering faith transcends the pain, poverty and struggles of their everyday lives.”
During the offertory procession, a group of farm workers brought blueberries to the altar.
“I was deeply moved during the presentation of the gifts when the blueberries were brought up,” said Gregory Coogan, director of Youth Young Adult Ministry for the diocese. “How wonderful to know the work of their hands was laid at the altar of the Lord. I will never look at blueberries the same way.”
Food for the workers and their families was prepared and served by the community of St. Monica’s.
The number of Mass participants swelled greatly this year as congregants filled the labor camp’s veranda and perimeter. Well over 1,000 workers and family members were served food by St. Monica’s, members of the Black Catholic Ministry Commission, the youth group of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Sicklerville, and other volunteers.
“To gather with the Haitian community is to be surrounded by people of a deep and contagious joy,” said Sister Roseann Quinn, SSJ, Delegate for Lifelong Faith Formation. “I was drawn into the warmth and delight of a people who treasure the familiar rhythms of liturgy and life and family and farm. Together we all gave praise and glory to God – not as strangers – but as one family, one faith, one People of God.”

Corlis Sellers is Associate Director of Lifelong Faith Formation for Black Catholics, Coordinator of the Racial Justice Commission, Diocese of Camden.

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