CHICAGO (CNS) — A California priest who ministers to the children of migrant workers in the state’s Salinas Valley is the winner of the 40th annual Lumen Christi Award of the Catholic Extension Society.
Father Enrique Herrera, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield in the Diocese of Monterrey, organizes programs for youth to grow in faith and responsibility, and envisions that all the children in the parish will attend college, the society said.
The priest’s work is particularly important in the town of 16,000, where 90 percent of the children’s parents are migrant workers and immigrants who travel to the area to harvest lettuce, broccoli and strawberries. More than half the city’s population is under the age of 18 and the annual per capita income is about $14,000.
The society said Fr. Herrera works to help reverse the deep poverty Greenfield residents face through programs he has developed for young people with city officials, the police department and school officials.
The parish hosts six Masses on weekends, including four in Spanish. About 4,000 people visit the church each weekend for Mass, baptisms and social events. The parish has a food bank, English classes, immigration assistance programs, nutrition and parenting classes and religious formation. Daily Bible classes during the non-growing season attract 400 people or more.
Fr. Herrera also helps prepare youth for the sacraments. In May, 446 children received their first Communion and hundreds more were confirmed, the society said. The youth form the core of parish volunteers who help others, including the very young.
About 40 percent of young adults in the parish attend community college or four-year universities.
“We need to put the Catholic Church in the social arena so it not only helps people grow in their faith but to grow as members of the community,” a society press release quoted Fr. Herrera as saying. “Our mission is to strengthen individuals, families and society.”
The Lumen Christi Award is Catholic Extension Society’s highest national honor. It is given annually to a person who represents the Light of Christ in a mission diocese. The award includes a $25,000 cash prize.