Migrant Ministry Experience - Summer 2018

by Noah Thelen

As a seminarian for the diocese of Grand Rapids, this summer I had the opportunity of being assigned to St. Francis de Sales Parish in Holland, Michigan. In addition to various activities at the parish, I also was able to attend various masses at a couple of different migrant camps in the Holland area. The summer was truly a wonderful experience with the people of God. One of the most blessed parts of the assignment was getting to know both Hispanic parishioners as well as those who frequent the masses at the migrant camps.

What stood out most throughout the summer, was the incredible hospitality I was shown by everyone. Every Tuesday evening, I attended the mass at the Quincy Migrant Camp. Each week, whenever I arrived at the camp, people would greet me with a smile and a handshake. Immediately they asked me to serve the Mass as an acolyte. Some even asked me for my vocation story, even though that meant they had to endure my sloppy Spanish.

This type of hospitality went even further on the many occasions I was invited over to parishioner’s houses for dinner. People would make elaborate and large meals with food from their home state in Mexico. On one occasion, when I went to a family’s house with a priest for a house blessing, the family made tacos for us even during this short visit. After initially insisting that I would eat only one because we were immediately going somewhere else for dinner, somehow, they managed to convince me to eat four.

In every sense going into this summer, I was an outsider. I have only been speaking Spanish for the last couple of years and I obviously have no family from Mexico. I’m not even from Holland. But none of this mattered to the Hispanics I met this summer. They gladly welcomed me as one of their own and loved me.
Experiences like this summer further confirm for me that the Diocese of Grand Rapids is truly a special place. I look forward to serving here for many years to come.

Originally published in Envision, Pastoral Services of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Volume 9, Issue 5, September/October 2018