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Memorial for migrant worker who died of COVID-19 set for Sunday

A Catholic memorial mass is being planned for Juan Lopez Chaparro, the migrant worker from Mexico who died after contracting COVID-19 on a vegetable farm near Simcoe last weekend.

The mass will be live-streamed at 7 p.m. Sunday from Blessed Sacrament church in Burford, Ont.

Juan Lopez Chaparro died June 20, 2020 after contracting COVID-19 from Scotlynn Group farm where he was employed. (Submitted by Chaparro Family)

A Catholic memorial mass is being planned for Juan Lopez Chaparro, the migrant worker from Mexico who died after contracting COVID-19 on a vegetable farm near Simcoe last weekend.

The mass will be held on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Burford, Ont., about 40 minutes north of the farm where he contracted the virus. 

Scotlynn Group farm has one of the largest outbreaks in Ontario, with more than 200 positive cases reported by public health authorities earlier this week. 

The mass is by invitation only due to COVID-19 restrictions but will be live-streamed on the church's Facebook page, said Father Peter Ciallella.

He expects about 30 people to be in attendance, including representatives from the Norfolk County health unit and the board of health.

Ciallella said a formal funeral will likely be organized by Chaparro's family back in Mexico at a later date, after the body has been released by Canadian authorities. 

"We just thought that because in Mexico there is the tradition of La Novena — [nine days of mourning] — and I thought since it's pretty much coming to the end of the nine days, why don't we do this memorial tribute, principally for the workers, but hopefully for the family through livestream."

Father Peter Ciallella is presiding over the memorial Sunday at his church Blessed Sacrament Parish Hall in Burford, Ont. (Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board)

Ciallella said he thought the mass would help comfort many of the workers who were in quarantine with Chaparro and would be of interest to those following the story of his death.

"I originally proposed doing it as an outside service at the actual bunkhouse where Mr. Chaparro resided but the medical officer of health suggested we do it on a remote site. So we decided to do it at the church."

Grieving nephew

Ciallella said he has spoken briefly with Chaparro's nephew, who was working with his uncle on the farm.

"He's still sad. He's just trying to get things together. I believe he will be going home soon to be with the family for several weeks, to be with them to grieve. And I believe it is his desire to come back and finish off the season."

Scotlynn Group, an international agriculture company based in Vittoria Ontario, is the latest farming facility to see a coronavirus outbreak involving migrant workers. (Google)

The pastor says he hasn't spoken directly with Chaparro's family in Mexico, but he's been told that "they're still devastated, it's still a shock."

Ciallella said he has heard indirectly that the family has questions about how Lopez Chaparro contracted COVID-19 and why he died.

Eulogizing Lopez Chaparro

He plans to eulogize Lopez Chaparro by referencing a hymn inspired by John 12:24, in which Jesus said "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains a single grain. But if dies, it produces much fruit."

"Of course, we never want anybody to die in a tragic manner, but maybe one's death might be that seed that might plant a new beginning in the way our migrant workers are being looked after and cared for," said Ciallella

The pastor said he hopes to make contact with Lopez Chaparro's family in the coming days. He wants to discuss how he can direct financial donations to them.

He said a number of people have an expressed an interest in making a donation and he is willing to facilitate the process.

Ciallella expects to have more details on how people can donate in the next few days.

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