A mass in Spanish was celebrated on August 20, 2023 at Saint-Hyacinthe Cathedral to thank the region’s farm workers. Organizations were also invited to pass on valuable information.
Text and video Marie-Anne Dayé
On this sunny Sunday in August, the faithful were trickling into the cathedral. As soon as they were assembled, the mass in Spanish began. Religious hymns sung by 30 choristers and biblical readings punctuated the session, followed by a ritual that moved many. “May the Lord bless your working hands”, said the priest, tracing a cross in each of the hands in front of him.
“This was our 11th edition, and I think it was the best one yet,” enthuses John Sanchez, diocesan manager and pastoral minister for seasonal workers and new immigrants. “It’s always a gesture that speaks volumes, not just to workers. We had permanent residents, people who live in Saint-Hyacinthe and the surrounding area, and they too benefited from this small gesture of hand blessing. Tears were flowing, it was intense,” adds the man who has been accompanying the workers for almost 20 years.
Informing about rights and responsibilities
After mass, everyone headed to the back of the cathedral, where organizations were on hand to provide information and support to workers: Justice Pro Bono presented its legal information service and free telephone line; the Centre d’aide aux familles latino-américaines (CAFLA) gave health advice; Intégration Compétences, Service L’ANCRE and Visión ML of the Oscar Romero Foundation promoted their services in the region; UPA de la Montérégie called workers on its general information hotline; Cyclo Nord-Sud distributed 20 bikes free of charge, plus a safety kit; CNESST answered questions on labor standards; and RATTMAQ distributed its agenda and provided information. The Guatemalan consul was also present at the event.
“It’s great to see all the organizations working together for the same cause. It gives us enormous faith,” continues John Sanchez. I think we need to continue the work we’ve been doing for 20 years, raising awareness among both employers and workers. The boss is not an ATM where you withdraw money. And the worker is not a production machine. With organizations, it’s good to repeat that workers have rights, but they also have duties.
“Faith is a unifying factor, but so are tacos!”
The party seemed to be very much appreciated by the participants, who were able to hear the voice of singer Victor Carrera and the traditional Mexican music of the Sol de Canada mariachis, eat tacos and salted and buttered corn. Luis Fernando, a Mexican who works in Dunham harvesting berries, has taken part in this kind of event in the past in Ontario and Chicoutimi. “This party is good for all Latinos!” For him, it’s also an opportunity to exchange ideas with everyone.
John Sanchez emphasizes the importance for workers of the pilgrimage to the cathedral. And, of course, the party that follows. “Faith brings people together, but so do tacos!
On a more serious note, he notes that more information is being passed on to workers. “Not all bosses are aware of the cause. But all the awareness-raising is going to ensure that, at some point, bosses will understand that workers aren’t machines, they’re humans who also need rest,” concludes the diocesan leader.
The project was funded by the Government of Canada.