Queen of Americas Mission

Our Lady Queen of the Americas, Cambria

I recently had the chance to visit a little known gem of our diocese for Sunday evening Mass. La Capilla de Nuestra Señora Reina de las Américas (The Chapel of Our Lady Queen of the Americas) is the Catholic Mission Church in Cambria. Open from May to October, its parishioners are primarily migrant workers for the various vegetable processing factories in the area. The chapel is simple, clean, beautiful and starkly humble. It is lovingly cared for by its 100 or so parishioners.

When I arrived for this visit a few Sundays ago, I first went to one of the migrant camps. It’s a little village of cinderblock quarters, surrounded by dusty fine gravel parking areas. I was greeted by some men who were just getting ready to leave for the next shift and they kindly welcomed me to their camp. It was clear to them that I was a priest and, after introductions, they took me to their community catechist lay leader’s home, and politely excused themselves so they could walk to the factory for their upcoming shift.

I had previously spoken on the phone to their catechist leader earlier in the year when I helped arrange for Fr. Bala to cover a couple of Masses for their community. It was good to meet with her face to face and we quickly recalled our previous conversation. She is an articulate, well trained, lay ecclesial leader and her English is better than my Spanish. Clearly the sister in Texas who trained her did an excellent job and empowered her to be the leader of this small Catholic Community. Over the years, she has prepared countless parents for the baptism of their children, children for first reconciliation and first communion, and couples for marriage, and she has counseled parishioners struggling with personal or family challenges. Even though this community has had Mass provided for them each Sunday, this woman is in many ways the shepherd of this community.

I excused myself so I could head up to the church to get ready for Mass. I left her small, humble concrete home amazed by her deep and profound faith and made my way to the church to meet with Fr. Mike from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Fr. Mike has been caring for this community for the past eight years, however, he has informed our diocese that next year he will no longer be able to care for this little community. He has four parishes of his own and both he and his associate each already have four Sunday Masses. As I drove the three quarters of a mile to the little chapel in the woods on the hill, some of the parishioners were already making their way on foot to church. Others were coming home from their factory shift to hurriedly get ready and leave for Mass.

When I arrived at the church, I found that it had recently been painted and the lawn mowed and trimmed; inside the church the floor was freshly mopped. There are beautiful decorations placed with care throughout the church. The back wall is all glass and looks out at the forest. It has a simple concrete floor with arched wooden beams and its walls are plain exposed two by fours that hold the windows in place. Its exterior is clad with interior grade plywood and it has interior grade doors on the outside. There is no insulation or interior sheathing on the walls. Nonetheless, it is clear this community loves God and it shows in the care and love they give their poor little church and the care and love they have for one another. The Mass was truly a celebration. They sing loudly and are clearly there to express gratitude to God for what they have. This community, as poor as it is, is rich and mighty in the things that truly count: faith and family. I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks at the factory a half a mile away could hear them singing!

Of course, the church building has its challenges. The exterior and especially the doors have begun to fail in our harsh climate and the woodland animals have taken their toll on this more than 50-year-old structure. The water pump failed a few years ago and was never fixed and there is no longer a restroom. The doors are not going to last much past winter. Any adult could easily push one’s hand through the decayed wood of the doors. The gutters need some attention too. There is no shed for the lawnmower or the weed trimmer so they are stored inside the church in the back near the confessional.

Deacon Dick Martin and I returned the following Sunday to bring rosaries and Spanish rosary booklets, Missalettes, prayer books, a current Roman Missal for the priest who celebrates Mass, catechisms and bibles. Los Atlantes, the local Mexican bakery on Raymond Road donated 12 dozen traditional pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) for the community and we brought along some Mexican soda to go with it for hospitality after Mass. Of course this little community was overjoyed and couldn’t believe what was happening. They kept asking “¿Cuánto cuesta?” (how much does it cost?). Of course we let them know it was from generous outreach donations from St. Maria Goretti Parish!

In the coming months we will be discerning if or how our parish is being called to serve this poorest community in our Diocese.