As a student at Cathedral High School in the late 1980s, Peter Ciallella was a Vincentian. In 2017, as Father Peter, he was sent to serve at Blessed Sacrament parish in Burford (and St. Anthony Daniel, Scotland).
Two activities that he undertook immediately have come together in this time of pandemic. Father Peter’s Vincentian heart lead him to embrace his role as Spiritual Advisor to Blessed Sacrament conference. His experience of service in Latin America lead him to begin a ministry to the migrant workers who come each year to work in this agricultural area. “… on one Sunday a month from about April to October, Blessed Sacrament offers the workers English lessons and access to WiFi sometimes not available at the farms. Fluent in Spanish, Ciallella delivers a service in the workers’ native language, followed by a meal prepared by church volunteers. As many as 100 workers show up.” (Brantford Expositor June 10, 2020)
Faced with a Covid-19 outbreak at a large farm operation in a neighbouring county, Father Peter publicly addressed community reaction to workers being quarantined in Brant hotels: “I know their intention was not to assign blame on the migrant farm workers, but rather to point out the bureaucratic flaws in poor planning and communication,’ Ciallella said in a letter to The Expositor. “Unfortunately, this can escalate the tension and fears and lead to a certain amount of backlash and xenophobia, which has been evident.” (Brantford Expositor June 10, 2020)
Instead Father was approached by President Mary Risi and past-President Doreen Fader of Blessed Sacrament conference seeking a positive response to the situation. With the support of parishioners and conference members from across the Brant deanery, more than 200 gift bags were provided to workers as they finished their quarantine.
Sadly, Mexican worker, Juan Lopez Chaparro, succumbed to the virus in June. With the local health officer, Father Peter visited the bunkhouses of Juan’s colleagues to personally deliver the tragic news. “We addressed their concerns and offered prayers for their companion,” said Ciallella. “It took us over two hours. It was quite an emotional and moving experience.” (Simcoe Reformer, June 21, 2020)
During a memorial Mass, Father shared words from Juan’s wife. “Remember my husband, the man that he was — a good man, a kind-hearted man, a man of peace.” (Catholic Register July 4, 2020) Because many coworkers were unable to attend due to pandemic restrictions, Facebook livestream was arranged with an eventual upload to YouTube.
Father Peter also established a GoFundMe campaign for Juan’s family. He continues his advocacy for the workers: “Workers have been afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs or being sent back to Mexico,” said Ciallella. “This could be a turning point.” (Brantford Expositor, June 25, 2020)
Then word came about a second farm operation with a small group of workers. Because of their isolation they have been unable to shop. Through contact with local Vincentian Wies Stys, Father Peter arranged for work clothing to be provided to these men from the SSVP Brant Thrift Store. Also at the Store is a quantity of non-perishable food awaiting resumption of full SSVP food bank service to those in need locally. Store volunteers have prepared and dispatched boxes of items deemed suitable for the workers’ diet.
This priest with the Vincentian heart truly exemplifies the Vincentian value to “help in all possible ways”.