Monday, November 17, 2014
Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Last Thursday, November 13, was the feast day of “one of our own,” St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. As I try to do each year, I visited her shrine up in Washington Heights, venerated her tomb, and greeted her sisters, the wonderful Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
Mother Cabrini is, as you probably know, the patron saint of immigrants. Why? Because, when Pope Leo XIII sent her here to New York from her beloved Italy in 1887, he gave her one simple directive: “Take care of the Italian immigrants!”
Did she ever! And did they need care! Those Italian immigrants – – perhaps your grandparents – – were ignored, ridiculed, stereotyped, discriminated against, and taken advantage of. They were poor, jammed into stinking tenements, separated from families at home, and prone to sickness.
As embarrassing as it is for me to admit it, even the Church they loved at times neglected them. The Italian immigrants had no priests or parishes; the sacraments and religious instruction were scarce; the bishops and priests (yes, I blush to confess, mostly Irish), with some glorious exceptions, scorned them.
Frances Xavier Cabrini became a genuine Madre to them, and her nuns real sisters, as they visited their tenements, took in the orphans, taught their children, cared for their sick, and defended their dignity. This faithful, loving, but gritty and gutsy woman cared for the immigrant, not only here in New York, but on to Chicago, Denver, and Latin America. While always proud of her Italian heritage, she became an American citizen and, more importantly, a saint.
We need her again! We need new Mother Cabrinis! Once again, the immigrant, especially Catholic Latinos, are scorned and rejected. Neither political party can claim success in dealing with them justly, and once again, they are being demonized in our society. I sometimes wonder if Lady Liberty in our harbor is blushing.
And we bishops, priests, deacons, women religious, and lay leaders have to admit that we might not be doing enough, either.
You have often heard me quote Ed Koch: “When the immigrant arrived in New York – – poor, homesick, scared, and unsure – – two great women welcomed them: Lady Liberty and Mother Church.”
Our nation risks no longer deserving that compliment; our Church today is challenged by it.
That was my prayer Thursday before Mother Cabrini’s tomb: might we ever continue her work!