August 2021:

When his alarm buzzes at 3 a.m., Daniel Sanchez prepares for a day in the fields alongside migrants who pick cherries and apples in Yakima, Washington, a central valley community known as the nation’s fruit basket. The 25-year-old isn’t one of the thousands of mostly Mexican workers who labor under an unforgiving sun that earlier this summer scorched this region with temperatures rising above 100 degrees.

Sanchez is a seminarian in the Catholic Diocese of Yakima in Washington state, where all men studying to be priests are not only expected to study theology, philosophy and biblical exegesis, but also spend part of their summer learning from and ministering to migrants. Sanchez has done work as varied as pruning grape vines, sorting cherries and helping the migrants’ children learn to read English.

“It has been a humbling experience that helps me realize my vocation isn’t about me, but the people I’m ministering to,” said Sanchez, who was born in Washington state after his parents immigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico. “The beauty of this ministry is it helps the migrant workers see that the church has not abandoned them. The church is there when they are lonely or tired and goes out to meet them where they are.”

The Diocese of Yakima is collaborating with Catholic Extension to provide immersive experiences like this for other clergy from around the country. The Chicago-based organization works nationwide to strengthen Catholic faith communities by connecting under-resourced parishes with essential support through short-term mission encounters. . In 2017, Lilly Endowment approved a $1 million grant to Catholic Extension to support cohorts of priests renewing their ministries through mission immersion experiences.  The grant was part of Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry initiative.

Joe Boland, vice president of mission for Catholic Extension, says a “theology of encounter” guides all of the organization’s immersion trips.

National Catholic Reporter has the story.