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Catholic Migrant Farmer Network seeks more support


By La Prensa Staff


The Catholic Migrant Farmworker Network (CMFN), like many other aid agencies, finds itself extraordinarily busy and immersed in a diverse array of issues these days, as the Trump administration continues to focus on Latino immigrant groups with its public policy.


CMFN claims to be “a pastoral presence in the lives of migrant and seasonal farmworkers” and has part of its founding roots in Toledo. The nonprofit group was cofounded in 1986 by retired Toledo priest Father Dick Notter and other Catholic leaders who worked with migrant farmworkers across the country. Notter served as the group’s first director on a part-time basis.


“One (purpose) is to call attention to church people for the need to reach out to farmworkers to develop a kind of communication network at all levels in the church regarding these issues and to develop human and spiritual development of farmworkers, as well as their pastoral leadership within the migrant community,” he explained.


CMFN's mission is to promote the formation of welcoming church communities by advocating social justice, dignity, and respect for all in order that we may be a missionary church. That mission is advanced through pastoral leadership courses, retreats, workshops, newsletters, pastoral visits, immersion trips and published resources for migrant ministers.


“It really started as a way to network people, in particular, Catholic ministry folks who were working with farmworkers, so that as those people moved around the country, there would be some continuity, like in the religious formation of the children, first Communions and so on,” said Fr. Notter. “The leadership training began fairly early. We would go to different dioceses around the country where they requested training. That continues today.”


The most recent pastoral training occurred in the Stockton, California Diocese. Another one is scheduled in Monterrey, California. Ohio has played a big role in that training, with similar sessions held in Toledo, Youngstown, and Columbus. Lansing and Detroit also held trainings for migrant farmworkers to pastor to their peers in the Catholic faith. CMFN developed all the curriculum and bilingual training materials, including the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe in comic book form.


CMFN leaders cite the life of migrant farmworker families continues to grow more difficult in the current times of political and social unrest in the U.S. “While the normal tensions of the constant moving from state to state following the harvest; interruption of children’s schooling multiple times per year; and difficulty in linking up with local Churches due to language, cultural, economic and social differences serves to separate our migrant families,” the group’s website states.


“It is certainly one of the most difficult (periods to be a migrant farmworker), I would say. In some areas, there has been progress in terms of working conditions and housing,” he said. “But now they’re facing this really anti-immigrant mentality that’s really rubbing off on anybody associated with farm work—whether they be citizens, legal residents, or what they are.”


CMFN has sent fundraising letters to supporters and posted a similar effort on crowdrise.com, telling potential donors the group “helps bridge the differences and distances that separate the people of God.” CMFN is recognized as a national Catholic organization by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


“A lot of that is raising awareness at the local level of church members that they are our brothers and sisters and the need to reach out to them,” said Fr. Notter, now 81. “There are things you can do at the local level as well. Probably the biggest focus is working with the farmworkers themselves with these leadership training programs.”


The retired priest began working with migrant farmworkers in the 1960’s while still attending the Catholic seminary. He was recruited to serve as a driver for a pair of Mexican priests brought stateside each summer to serve as missionaries to migrant farmworkers before the diocese developed a Hispanic ministry.


“I did that for a couple of summers and fell in love with the people and the culture,” he said. “That winter we approached a priest to see if the bishop would approve us to go to Mexico for language school. That happened and since then I’ve been involved with the farmworker community.”


While assigned to a Fremont parish, Father Notter was part of a group known as Ohio Citizens for Farm Labor, which advocated for laws and policies promoting farmworker safety. Father Notter also was involved in the social justice movements that resulted in the formation of the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and United Farmworkers of America union. He achieved senior status as a Catholic priest a decade ago.


Father Notter spends his present days as a volunteer priest with circuses and traveling shows, mainly in the southern U.S. He stated he spends more time away from Toledo than in Toledo these days. In fact, he’ll leave for Florida just after Christmas and estimated he’ll be gone until Ash Wednesday, when he returns from South Texas. He mainly conducts Mass and ministers to Catholic circus performers, but has also presided at baptisms and other religious rites. That part of his pastoral career began in Florida years ago while ministering to the needs of the migrant farmworker community.


“I would spend two months in the winter in Florida two months in Texas visiting with the farmworkers who would come to Ohio in the summer,” he explained. “One particular year in Florida at St. Ann’s, that parish included a neighboring town where a lot of carnival and circus people lived. One night after the Spanish Mass, a retired circus performer from Central America came up to me and asked me to perform the baptism of a baby. That was 23 years ago and the rest is history.”


Anyone seeking to support CMFN or learn more about the organization can visit their web page at www.cmfwn.org or via social media at www.facebook.com/CMFWN


Copyright © 1989 to 2018 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 12/18/18 22:23:56 -0800.




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