At St. Frances Cabrini Shrine in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, July 13 was a day for two Masses in two languages, with one message: the Church in New York reaffirmed its commitment to immigrant rights and demanded “fair and just” treatment of immigrants on a weekend of federal arrests of undocumented immigrants in New York and other cities across the United States.
“With the difficulties and the tensions and the challenges that we’re facing, this would be a good time to thank God for her (Mother Cabrini’s) example, and to seek her intercession for justice and charity,” said Cardinal Dolan, the principal celebrant, in his homily during a noon Mass celebrating the 169th anniversary of Mother Cabrini’s birth on July 15, 1850. She is the patron saint of immigrants.
“Mother Cabrini took literally God’s Holy Word…She realized fully that Abraham was an immigrant, Abraham was a refugee,” the cardinal said. “Mother also took to heart the great commandment of Jesus, love of God and love of neighbor, and the parable of the Good Samaritan…We keep the spirit of Mother Cabrini alive.”
“Happy 169th, Mother Cabrini. That’s pretty old; but in this city and this archdiocese, you are ever young.”
The cardinal noted Mother Cabrini’s tireless devotion to the many people coming to New York from Italy, her native land. “Today, she would be there in the front lines (for all immigrants); her work still goes on through the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” he said.
The cardinal reiterated his grave concerns over federal immigration raids in a short news conference after Mass, at one point with visible anger and sorrow.
“People who are trying to obey the law, and trying to get their documents in order, are so afraid and so confused that they don’t know what to do, and this isn’t right, this isn’t good,” he told reporters, citing fluctuating immigration laws and policies.
“We all know that hundreds of thousands of immigrants are living a moment of terror and anguish and fear,” said Father Ambiorix Rodriguez, pastor of St. Elizabeth parish in Washington Heights, in his homily during a 2 p.m. Spanish Mass which he celebrated. That Mass also honored Mother Cabrini.
“That is why today we are in solidarity, in action and in prayer, for each one of them…And we ask that the repression stops, the repression of our undocumented brothers and sisters. Every person has dignity, a dignity that is inviolable and given by God.”
After the Spanish Mass, Father Rodriguez participated in a Neighborhood Procession for Immigrant Rights; the procession route included Cabrini Boulevard. Father Rodriguez was a concelebrant in the earlier Mass.
Cardinal Dolan, at the news conference, told reporters, “Our (immigrant) brothers and sisters—they are scared, really scared.” He noted that one parish priest in the archdiocese told him last week that his parishioners were concerned about leaving home and attending Mass because of the planned federal raids.
“That’s how scared some people are,” the cardinal said. “And I’m just hoping that this Mass and the presence of the Church, and the assurances that I’m giving now, will let them know that they’re not alone. Jesus is with them, and the Church with them…We’re hiking up our efforts.”
With the cardinal was Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, who was one of the Mass concelebrants with Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh.
“We know that so many of our neighbors are frightened and they feel threatened,” Msgr. Sullivan told the journalists. “And so we have our counselors, our attorneys who are available this entire weekend at both the New York State New American Hotline and the New York City Action Hotline, so people can call and they’ll get good, accurate, prompt information about how to respond to any threats that they may fear…We believe in abiding by the law, but we don’t believe in abusing the law.
“So we want people to exercise their rights…They do not have to respond unless (agents) have the proper documents,” Msgr. Sullivan said. Extra people were manning the hotlines last weekend, he noted.
Sister Catherine Garry, M.S.C., from the Lower Manhattan convent of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was founded by Mother Cabrini, spoke toward the end of the English-language Mass. She expressed gratitude to all who support her congregation’s mission in advocating for immigrants.
Sister Yolanda Flores, M.S.C, who is from the same convent, spoke at the end of the Spanish Mass, thanking all who work to assure immigrants know their rights and can rely on the Church for help.
In interviews with Catholic New York after the Spanish Mass, several attendees spoke of their thankfulness for the Mass celebrations and the procession, and for the Church’s advocacy for immigrants through Catholic Charities, Cabrini Immigrant Services and other Church organizations.
Among them was Maria Caguana, 35, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception in Astoria, Queens. She is from Ecuador and is in the process of obtaining U.S. permanent resident status.
“It was beautiful,” she told CNY of the Spanish Mass and homily. “I am here to pray, to pray for my family, to our Lord and Our Mother.”
Manuel Dutan, a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes in Queens, and Ruth Ovalle, a parishioner of St. John-Visitation parish in the Bronx, both said they are immigrants who have documented status in the United States. Dutan is originally from Ecuador and Ms. Ovalle from the Dominican Republic. In separate interviews, they said they attended the Cabrini Mass as a strong show of support for immigrants seeking such status.
“I am here for the Mass, for Mother Cabrini and the procession on this beautiful day,” Ms. Ovalle said. “I am here to demonstrate my support for all immigrants, and to pray that the Lord opens doors for them.”
New York State New American Hotline: 1(800) 566-7636, and New York City Action Hotline, 1 (800) 354-0365.