A picture of Juan Lopez Chaparro is displayed during the memorial Mass held in Burford, Ont. Michael Swan

Migrant’s death hits community hard

By 
  • July 4, 2020

BURFORD, ONT. -- With many of Scotlynn Group Inc.’s migrant farm workers either still in or just out of quarantine, few were able to attend a memorial Mass on June 28 for Juan Lopez Chaparro at Blessed Sacrament Church in Burford, Ont.

Instead, the Mass was live-streamed on Facebook, allowing them and Lopez Chaparro’s family in Mexico to view the liturgy.

Chaparro died June 20 at London’s University Hospital. He was the third migrant farm worker from Mexico to die of COVID-19 in Ontario. In the hour before Chaparro’s, Spanish-language memorial Mass, the Windsor-Essex Health Unit reported a massive one-day COVID-19 spike of 98 cases, 96 of them among farm workers.

More than 1,000 migrant farm workers have tested positive for the virus in Ontario, according to the Justice for Migrant Workers advocacy group. It has called for the complete shutdown of Ontario farms until they are sterilized to prevent the spread.

The memorial Mass, celebrated by Fr. Peter Ciallella, fell on the ninth day after Lopez Chaparro’s death, and so honoured the Mexican tradition of “la novena” – nine days of prayers and visitation after a death.

From the altar, Ciallella brought a message from Lopez Chaparro’s widow, Augustine Galindo, in Tultitlán de Mariano Escobedo, about an hour’s drive north of Mexico City.

“Remember my husband, the man that he was — a good man, a kind-hearted man, a man of peace,” said Galindo through Ciallella.

Lopez Chaparro had been in Canada since the middle of April. He had been making the annual trek to Canada to work on Scotlynn Group Inc.’s Vittoria, Ont. farm since 2010. He leaves behind four adult children — 29-year-old Vianeli, 27-year-old Ana Laura, 25-year-old Juan Diego and 22-year-old Hugo Adán.

“I don’t know. I feel like I’m missing half of me,” Galindo told The Catholic Register in a text exchange.

The day before the memorial Mass, Ciallella launched a GoFundMe campaign to support Lopez Chaparro’s family. In the first 72 hours the Go Fund Me page had raised $14,500 from 133 donors.

The Mass was an emotional moment for Alfredo Perez, who first came to Scotlynn’s farm as a migrant worker 20 years ago and is now a Canadian citizen and Scotlynn manager. The death has hit everyone on the farm hard, Perez said.

Norfolk County mayor and Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health chair Krystal Chopp spoke in Spanish and English at the end of the Mass to recognize the sacrifices Lopez Chaparro and other migrant workers make to earn a better life for their families in Mexico.

“We are saddened by Mr. Chaparro’s passing,” she said.

When farm bunkhouses were first built, nobody was thinking about a contagious and deadly disease like COVID-19, Chopp told The Catholic Register.

“We’re going to have to look at how our migrant workers are housed,” she said.

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