The devotion to Our Lady of the Fields began among farmworkers near Paris, France, centuries ago, when almost everyone farmed. Farm workers are more hidden today. The immigrant farmworkers, the men who come, with working permits, to harvest the crops that we eat, are typically kept out of sight, especially in some of the areas where Glenmary serves.
During these days of pandemic, of course, everything is up in the air. Many Mexican workers are in Mexico, and they aren’t coming to work the fields anytime soon. Glenmary Father Vic Subb, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Lafayette, Tenn., recently visited central Mexico to check in on the farmworkers he ministers to in Macon County, the countryside around Lafayette. “They rented a car to pick me up at the airport, and of course they wouldn’t take any money. They are very gracious.” He tells of the workers clamoring to introduce Father Vic to their families, whom they leave for much of each year to make a living in the United States.
“When they’re in Macon County,” says Father Vic, “they are not allowed to leave the farms except one time each week, when they are taken to Wal-Mart by bus to pick up supplies. They can’t even come to Mass.” Father Vic has celebrated Mass in the fieldworkers’ bunkhouses in some of his previous assignments, but it has yet to become a regular practice in Macon County. “You have to realize that this is in their house, and these men have almost no down time. They get home, they take a shower, they cook for the next day, they need to call home to Mexico—their life has very limited time.”
Father Vic has to find other ways to take care of these men, spiritually. “I do give them the Glenmary prayer card, which includes our Prayer to Our Lady of the Fields. I explain the prayer, and tell them she’s the patroness of farm laborers. I encourage them to pray that every day, to ask for protection, to pray for their families. They miss them a lot. And it’s very hard on their wives, especially if they have children. But the money makes a big difference to the families. It’s very hard.” He also leaves sacramentals such as rosaries and scapulars for the men. “I have a scapular on right now that a farmworker gave me a couple of years ago,” says Father Vic. He knows that faith-sharing is a two-way street.