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Catholic Vancouver Jan. 11, 2018

Latin American farmers get Feliz Navidad from parishes

By B.C. Catholic Staff

Farm workers from Guatemala, Mexico, and other countries spending Christmas in B.C. dish up at a buffet dinner at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Vancouver. (Photos by Alfredo Chu / Special to The B.C. Catholic)

VANCOUVER—Spending Christmas away from home was difficult for Guatemalan farmer Guillermo Flores Olivares.

Instead of ringing in the holidays with his five children back home, Olivares was working on a farm in the Lower Mainland. For the last three years, he’s spent 11 months at a time away from his family, missing Christmases, Easters, and birthdays to support them.

It’s hard-working farmers like Olivares who inspire volunteers to host an annual Christmas Mass and dinner for hundreds of migrant farm workers growing B.C. crops.

“It is the most wonderful ministry that I have ever worked with,” said volunteer Lorraine Hermesmann, who helped more than 300 Latin American workers spending the holidays in Vancouver attend Mass, enjoy a turkey dinner, and receive free clothing and prizes at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Dec. 23.

The farmers, who come to Canada through a temporary foreign worker program, arrived at the Vancouver celebration from job sites in Ladner, Langley, Abbotsford, and Maple Ridge. Among them was Gustavo Hernandez Ortiz, who told The B.C. Catholic he came to Canada because there wasn’t much for him in Guatemala.

Ortiz has spent about two years working in this country and said he’s grateful to the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s ministry to farm workers.

Six parishes run outreach programs to temporary farm workers year-round: Our Lady of Sorrows, Precious Blood, Sacred Heart (Delta), St. Ann’s, St. Joseph’s (Langley), and St. Luke’s. Several others also host Masses in Spanish.

"The Child of Bethlehem gives us a great gift to celebrate his birth: He brings us a spiritual energy – it is called divine grace – that helps us not to sink in our fatigues, in our sorrows," said Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, in Spanish, during his homily for the farm workers.

"The birth of Jesus brings us the good news that we are loved immensely by God and that he is with us and our families this Christmas."

The evening closed with a free raffle, prizes including soccer balls and a bicycle, and a live band playing Spanish tunes including, of course, Feliz Navidad.

With files from Josephine Okunubi.

All photos can be viewed here.