David Juarez, 49, scrubbed the dirt of Florida cabbage fields from under his fingernails last week and came to Washington to impress on the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church the problems of their more than 12 million Spanish-speaking members in the United States.
Juarez and more than 1,100 other Hispanic Catholics from around the country yesterday wound up a four-day "encuentro," or conference, which discussed problems ranging from illegal aliens to the need for more church journals in Spanish.
In spirited plenary sessions, the delegates debated and adopted position papers on such topics as human rights, ministry, political responsibility, education and evangelization.
They demanded "total amnesty" for undocumented aliens and called on the church to "use its power" to help with immigration questions. They declared that "the bishops should back the right of every person to find their own residence wherever they may encounter favorable conditions for a decent life."
At the same time, they called for an end to illegal immigration into this country.
Several efforts to get the encuentro to back ordination of women to the priesthood were rejected, but the group approved calls for including women in "decision-making positions" in the church at all levels and urged giving women equal access to education for leadership roles in the church.
A statement on political responsibility asserted the "obligation and the moral responsibility of the "Hispanic Christian community to participate within the political system."
This includes creating Hispanic political blocs, lobbying for "laws in favor of the Hispanic people" and seeking and supporting "competent, honest, responsible Hispanic candidates."
They denounced discrimination, whether in church or society, and demanded that the bishops look into the special needs of Hispanics among the migrant workers and in the military. They pleaded for church structures in Hispanic communities that would reflect the culture of the people.
But more important than the recommendations, most agreed, was the process, which brought together Mexican-Americans, migrant workers, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and other Spanish-speaking people who have long been a silent minority in the church.
Juarez, who had never before attended a church conference, tried to explain what the encuentro meant to him.
"I am very happy our church . . . that all ouf us's church," - he struggled for the English words - "that whatever we speak in the encuentro, that out of all those words, the hierarchy will listen to us."
Hispanics "in many places are not accepted in the church as equal with other people," said the migrant worker, who divides his year between the fruit orchards of Michigan and the orange and truck farms of Florida.
Bishop James S. Rausch of Phoenix, whose Bishops' Committee on the Spanish-Speaking must work through the recommendations, said the "most important" element of the encuentro was "the process. As a result of this meeting and all of the smaller meetings which led up to it, the Hispanic people feel much more part of the ministry of the church."
Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Sante Fe, one of eight bishops of Spanish ancestry in the American church, said the encuentro produced "a great sense of unity among the Hispanic participants, regardless of the nation of origin."
Acknowledging the strong strain of Hispanic consciousness-raising that ran through the encuentro, Sanchez said it could only be beneficial to the total church, rather than polarizing Hispanics and Anglos.
"It wouldn't polarize the church any more than the St. Patrick's Day parade in Chicago," he said.