Seeing the Face of Christ in the Poor
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, recently sat down with Extension magazine to discuss migrant ministry. Raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm, he has tremendous respect for migrant workers. Watching his parents care for the people who worked their fields showed him that our faith calls us to see the person of Christ in everyone we meet. He is working within his diocese to provide housing for the poor as well as to promote justice and human rights for farmworkers – and for all people.
Growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, I witnessed firsthand the life of migrant farmworkers. It is hard work, and I have tremendous respect for what they do.
In our area, canning companies employed the workers. They provided water, but most of the time there was no food. My dad would tell my mom, ‘Oh, there are 10 guys in the fields today. Just put some food on.’ This is where I learned that you do something for people in need.
As we get older, we reflect about how we were raised. I realize that it was because of my parents’ faith, that they did what they did.
I get much joy by going out to be with the farmworkers. It is hard work, and I’m always aware of how tiring it is. The farmworkers here in Florida are in the fields 10–12 hours a day, sometimes every day of the week.
That’s why I want to help the farmworkers, and I think the Church is uniquely positioned to help. The call of Christ is a personal call. The organized Church puts that into action. I believe people are fundamentally good and want to help their brothers and sisters.
I think there is a great deal of trust put in the Church. That might seem strange to say in light of what we may read today, but you still have within the Church an organization that individuals feel safe approaching.
The Church does not turn them away if they need something; it doesn’t judge them either. The Church’s philosophical vision of the person is that, having been made in the image of God, people have rights. These rights are not granted by others but must be recognized by others. When it comes to providing housing, food and water, you are recognizing the individual’s dignity and rights.
Christ said, What’s the greatest commandment? Love God. And what came next? Love your neighbor as yourself. You just have to do that.
Recently, I was in Wauchula with a group of farmworkers who gathered because they knew the bishop was coming. I could see in their eyes and smiles that these were men and women of faith, and that they wanted to bring their children up well. As our parents did, they’re doing what they think is best for their children’s future.
And, that’s what people respond to, seeing the face of Christ in one another. When our parishioners go to the food pantry or soup kitchen in Immokalee, they immediately want to help. From then on, they come every week, even if it means driving two hours. Why? Because they see something in the face of the poor and in themselves. It calls them to be more.
For me, it’s inspiring. It’s about Christ, it’s what we’re called to do.