Centenary Mass Cites Mother Cabrini’s Care for Immigrants

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At a Mass commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of Mother Cabrini, Cardinal Dolan said, “We love her. We need her. We thank God for her...She herself became an immigrant, in search of the immigrant.”

Mother Cabrini, who was canonized in 1946, founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and is the patron saint of immigrants.

St. Frances Cabrini lived out the message of Scripture in her life and ministry, the cardinal said. “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; and do not quench the Holy Spirit.”

The late-afternoon liturgy, conducted in English and Spanish, was offered Dec. 16 at St. Frances Cabrini Shrine on Fort Washington Avenue in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. The 270 people who attended were a multicultural congregation with ancestries from Africa, Latin America and other parts of the globe.

Mother Cabrini, an Italian-born U.S. citizen, died in Chicago on Dec. 22, 1917, at age 67.

Cardinal Dolan noted Pope Francis has reminded us “that we are all missionaries, and that the Church is on permanent mission, and she (Mother Cabrini) is an exemplar of a new evangelization.”

In a world where “caricature of the immigrant and the refugee” are commonplace, Mother Cabrini’s compassionate works are as pertinent now as they were more than 100 years ago.

Addressing Cabrini sisters seated in the front pews, Cardinal Dolan said, “Dear daughters, this archdiocese cherishes you; we are proud this is your home. We need you more than ever...Que viva Madre Cabrini. Rejoice in the Lord, always.”

The words of Pope Francis were highlighted in the Mass program: “Mother Cabrini had the courage to look into the eyes of the orphaned children, the unemployed youth, the men and women exploited for the humblest jobs; and therefore...(we) thank God for her holiness. In each of those brothers and sisters, she recognized the face of Christ.”

Organizers noted that New York City had a special place in Mother Cabrini’s heart. To honor her memory and her legacy, the Cabrini shrine was dedicated in May 1960. Her remains are preserved within the main altar. The shrine’s art and design reflect the breadth of her ministry and her congregation’s impact on the 20th century. Behind the altar is a panoramic mosaic of her life and mission.

Today, Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus bring hope to men, women and children on five continents and 17 countries, from the streets of Rome to Australia, Guatemala, Argentina, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and the United States, including New York and Chicago.

Born in Italy on July 15, 1850, Mother Cabrini founded the Cabrini sisters there in 1880. Following the request of Pope Leo XIII, she arrived in New York harbor in 1889 with six nuns. She traveled across the United States opening schools, hospitals, orphanages and missions for immigrants during the height of the Italian emigration to America.

Sister Barbara Staley, M.S.C., gave welcoming remarks at the Centenary Mass. She is the Rome-based general superior of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In an interview with CNY after Mass, Sister Barbara said, “The challenge with immigrants is complex. We’re in 17 countries, so in some places we attend to the immediate crises of people who are crossing borders and who need food, shelter and safety.”

“In other places we are helping on more intermediate levels, which help people to get established, understand what their rights are, what social services are available to them, and to help them to come further integrated into their new culture...And we would advocate with legislators, we would work with the United Nations—we would work with the powers that have the capacity of doing something to make some changes in policy.”

Sister Barbara said her religious order has made a commitment to open two new missions in 2018, one in Rome for migrants from Africa, and the other in northern Uganda for refugees from South Sudan. She noted Mother Cabrini also traveled to Nicaragua, Panama and Argentina in her mission works.

At the Mass, Barbara Gonzalez-Alarcon, a U.S.-born Latina with family roots in Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, told CNY that she found Cardinal Dolan’s remarks “truly touching and inspiring, particularly his mention of how much love Mother Cabrini gave to the immigrants in our city.”

“That is particularly moving at this time when in our country and in our city there is such a strong anti-immigrant sentiment,” she said.

She is a parishioner at St. Elizabeth in Washington Heights, where she is a catechist and youth minister. She attended the Mass with her husband, Abraham Alarcon, who is U.S.-born of ancestry from Ecuador, and their three children.

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