Cardinal Honored for Support of Farmworkers

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Cardinal Dolan was honored last week for his support of farmworker rights during Rural & Migrant Ministry’s “Sowing Seeds of Justice” event.

The virtual fundraiser, which also honored two other advocates of farmworker rights, occurred May 11.

RMM, based in Poughkeepsie, is a statewide interfaith, nonprofit organization that seeks “hope, justice and empowerment” for farmworkers and their families.

“Am I ever grateful to be honored by the Rural & Migrant Ministry, an organization that I deeply support and respect,” said Cardinal Dolan during the recorded event.

The cardinal noted the important works of RMM administrators, staff and volunteers, “and most especially our beloved farmworkers...Now more than ever, we honor those men and women who toil in the fields of our beloved state.”

The cardinal, speaking from inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, added, “To think just last year, we were fighting for basic worker rights and protection for you farmworkers...Rural & Migrant Ministry is still here to lead that fight, and the Catholic Church is here to support those efforts in solidarity with all of you.

“It was my joy to march with so many of you across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall…a few years back...I was moved by your witness, by your enthusiasm, by your thirst for justice. I knew then, when I looked at you, that this movement would ultimately be successful.

“Our faith tells us that when you have righteousness and justice on your side, you can be sure you also have the Good Lord on your side as well.”

The cardinal mentioned key elements of the NYS Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, which took effect in January: overtime pay, a day of rest, workers’ compensation, collective bargaining rights and sanitary housing conditions.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, was one of the event’s four honorary chairs.  

The other two people honored were Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Maria Christina Martinez, engagement director of the National Latinx Community. Both expressed gratitude and strong support for farmworkers’ rights. Organizers said funds raised support the mission of RMM.

For more than 20 years, RMM has coordinated the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign, an effort to rectify centuries of “exploitation and exclusion of farmworkers from equality and justice,” as explained in an RMM statement. 

RMM cited Cardinal Dolan “who stood tall with us for a number of years in many different settings and situations. Without his presence, this bill (Farm Workers Bill) might not have passed. This is why we are honoring him.”

The gathering included musical performances, a poetry reading and a silent auction. 

Rev. Richard Witt, an Episcopal priest who is executive director of RMM, said at the virtual event, “We have devoted ourselves to advocacy and leadership development through all these years...Now the virus is here, and that has really impacted things, and so now Rural & Migrant Ministry is also focused on just the basic survival of the farmworker families.” He went on to speak about recent RMM projects to bring masks, hand sanitizers and other supplies to farmworkers throughout rural New York state during the pandemic, as well as funds for basic living expenses.

George Horton, the director of the Department of Social and Community Development of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, told CNY, “We’ve worked closely with (RMM) over the years—they’re just excellent people. And the cardinal has been tremendously helpful to this group. He marched with the group to help effect some changes with state law which were favorable to farmworkers.” 

Horton, citing support from the New York State Catholic Conference, said he believes “the virus right now points to the importance of a lot of workers we may not think of day to day. Farmworkers are among the people that need to be honored.

“Catholic Charities has always had a commitment to people who may be living on the margins, people who need to be treated justly—to help them to realize their own dignity and rights. We want to honor the family farmers, but we want to keep the spotlight on farmworkers.”  

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