Shame and Grace: The Story of Danilo, a Migrant Laborer

Christopher Posch, OFM Friar News

Editor’s note: Christopher Posch, OFM, who leads Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Wilmington in Delaware, writes of his experiences ministering to immigrants, telling them that all are equal in the eyes of God.

WILMINGTON, Del. — Avoiding eye contact, Danilo bowed his head, feeling disgraced. “Tengo verguenza.” Danilo said that he was ashamed. He never received the Eucharist. He was about 25 years old.

Danilo first spoke with me two years ago at the conclusion of a unique weekly liturgy for seasonal migrant horse groomsmen offered at Delaware Park racetrack. He told me about his difficult childhood in Guatemala, his two younger sisters, and the death of his father. At the age of 5, Danilo became the man of the house, dropped out of school, and began daily commutes to Guatemala City to sell hard candy on the streets.

Danilo’s devout Catholic mother had him and his sisters baptized soon after birth, prayed with them before daily meals and bedtime, and walked with them to the parish in the big city twice a week for Mass and religious education for first Communion. Danilo and his sisters knew the doctrina. They loved and clung to God.

The day before first Communion, Danilo and his sisters celebrated first reconciliation. But after they prayed their penance and marveled in the joy of God’s mercy, they discovered that they lacked something that seemed important: beautiful white dresses for the girls and a navy blue blazer for Danilo. So the family decided to postpone first Communion. Tuvieron verguenza. They were ashamed.

Life did not get easier. In his teens, Danilo worked as a shoeshine boy and later as car window-washer on the city street corners.

In his early 20s, Danilo fell in love with Marta. They decided to get married. During pre-Cana at the city church, upon discovering that Danilo had never receieved the Eucharist, the priest scolded Danilo and disgraced him in front of everybody. Que verguenza. Daniel felt ashamed.

Utterly disheartened, Danilo and Marta decided to get married civily. Unfortunately, Danilo’s mother became critically ill. They postponed the wedding so that Danilo could provide for his uninsured mother’s health care. Within a few weeks, Danilo’s mother died. Weighed down by debt, Danilo came to Delaware Park. He discovered the Spanish Mass and asked what he needed for first Communion. “Faith and desire,” I replied, saying that he already possessed them. Now he only needed instruction.

The following week, we invited all adult migrants who desired the sacraments to inquire. Six stayed after Mass. We formed an RCIA community that met after weekly liturgies and featured memorable faith-sharing, prayer, scripture reflection, and catechesis.

poschbackDuring the first session, it became clear that not everyone knew how to read. But this did not stop growth and catechesis. They all had committed key scripture passages to memory from childhood catechetical songs about the creation story, Moses, the plagues, the 10 commandments, key parables, and sayings of Jesus. Salucio remembered all the names from the entire 42-generation genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1. Others recited prayers of St. Francis and sayings of Mother Teresa with great conviction and passion. The Word was grafted on their hearts.

In mid-August, Danilo learned that he would have to migrate to a Florida racetrack within two weeks. Danilo did not want to leave until he had celebrated first Communion. So the race was on.

We devised an intense process that met nightly for two weeks. I left Spanish catechetical comic books, videos on sacraments, and scripture highlights. The readers guided the non-readers through the sources and the Spirit did the rest.

Donned in blue blazers, Danilo and companions celebrated first Eucharist at the parish vigil Spanish Mass. Later, during dinner at La Tolteca, Danilo requested that I perform a wedding ceremony with him in Delaware and Marta in Guatemala — over the phone.

“It would be an honor,” I replied. “Why don’t you wait until you’re back in Guatemala in the winter?”

In February, while driving through the Delaware Park horse stable area to offer Mass, I approached a young man and woman walking slowly, hand-in-hand. I thought that he looked like Danilo. It was. We embraced.

Danilo proudly introduced me to his wife, Marta, the mother of his newborn daughter. We shared the Eucharist, admired baby pictures, phoned Marta’s parents in Guatemala, and engaged in over-the-phone baby talk with their newborn girl.

Grace always conquers shame.

— Fr. Christopher, who lives at Saint Paul Friary in Wilmington, Del., directs the Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Wilmington. For 11 years, he has ministered at Delaware Park, which is about 15 miles from St. Paul’s Church. As chair of the Province’s Hispanic Ministry Committee, he believes in the importance of sharing stories about Hispanic culture and ministry.

In photo, above: Danilo, the migrant horse groomer from Guatamala with Bishop Michael Saltarelli, who recently retired and was affilitiated with Holy Name Province.

Behind: Christopher Posch leads a seasonal weekly litergy for migrant laborers at Delaware Park in a private dorm area.