Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of the Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles, spent his 81st birthday on Monday in Amman, Jordan, following three days in Lebanon visiting with Syrian refugees, Filipino guest workers and other migrants. He's in a delegation from the Vatican and posting about the working trip at his blog, Cardinal Roger Mahony Blogs L.A..
"Almost all of these refugees have had to flee terror, wars, persecution, lack of food and medical care, and general hopelessness," he writes. "Our mission is to bring that sense of "closeness" of Pope Francis to them, and to extend reasons for hope. We will also be encouraging the caregivers taking care of refugees in so many places."
After Lebanon and Jordan, Mahony's delegation moves on to Erbil in northern Iraq then to Greece, where many thousands of refugees are stranded.
From his post on visiting the Beqaa Valley, including a refugee camp filled with displaced Syrians.
First stop: a unique school operated by the Good Shepherd Sisters. The Sisters have a small school in which they take Syrian refugee children and help them with a variety of services, including hygiene practises, basic education, and various programs to assist them with their precarious living situation....
Our next stop was to visit a nearby camp where many refugee families have lived for some four years, ever since the armed conflict in Syrian began. The people live in small tent-like structures, many family members per tent. Most long to return to their homes in Syria when the terrible war in Syria ends. We met refugees from Aleppo, Homs, and other cities and towns spread across the country.
[Catholic Relief Service] and Caritas Lebanon offer many services to assist the families and children. Sadly, families from rural Syria do not value education since their lives are centered on farming and each family member is needed to help with all the farm jobs...
Continue to pray for all refugees and people forced from their homes by war, conflict, hunger, and persecution. Only Jesus, the Prince of Peace, can bring an end to so much displacement and suffering.
Mahony is traveling with Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, a Vatican envoy. The cardinal — an Angeleno who grew up in North Hollywood — posted that the meeting with Filipino immigrants in Beirut turned into a festive celebration — "reminded me so much of Los Angeles being with them -- so warm, friendly, kind and hospitable."
Just before beginning the trip in Rome, Mahony had put up a blog post about driving through the San Joaquin Valley and stopping to talk to some peach orchard workers. He called the post If you like peaches, you'll love immigrants and began by saying: "Without immigrants, those with legal status and those without, the State of California would shut down."
Recently I was driving through the lush San Joaquin Valley of central California listening to a local talk radio station which was berating immigrants, regurgitating the ill-informed rhetoric that has become so popular in the recent election campaigns. As I passed endless miles of dormant orchards and vineyards, open fields awaiting Spring planting, my eye caught sight of a group of men pruning peach trees.
I found an exit from the highway and doubled back to get a closer look. These young peach trees were just beginning to sprout pink and red buds, so the men were working quickly to complete the entire orchard.
While these farm workers were busy at this orchard, thousands more were spread across this fertile Valley pruning grape vines and many other fruit trees so that you and I can enjoy fresh fruit, table grapes, and fine wines in the coming months.
I asked these workers if non-Hispanics ever work along side them, and they looked at me amazed. They said that even in the midst of the Great Recession they never saw anyone approach the farmers looking for work doing these difficult tasks.
These immigrants are essential to California's agricultural business, one of the prominent elements of the state's economy. California leads the nation in the production of fruits, vegetables, wines and nuts. The state's most valuable crops are nuts, grapes, cotton, flowers, and oranges. California produces the major share of U.S. domestic wine. Dairy products contribute the single largest share of farm income.
Without our immigrant brothers and sisters, agricultural would quickly vanish as the great economic engine it is.
In California immigrants are the employee engine not only of agriculture, but also of tourism, hotel and motel employees, restaurant chefs and staff, clothing manufacturing, landscape installation and maintenance, all phases of construction work, car washing and detailing, and countless other segments of production and service.
Of this group of farm workers I met one who had just finished high school. He was helping his father prune trees because they must be pruned before the buds emerged. There was a rhythmical urgency to their work, and he told me they had hundreds more acres to prune. He said that soon he was going to go to Fresno State University and major in agriculture so that he could be part of the management and science side of farming.
In case you wondered what Mahony has been up to since retiring in 2011, embroiled at the time in the controversy over personnel files related to sexual abuses over the years by priests in the archdiocese. You may remember, before becoming the head of the Los Angeles archdiocese in 1985, Mahony was based in Fresno and Stockton and often worked among the farmworkers.
Peach orchard workers. Courtesy of Roger Mahony.