November 12, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2241).

Tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 13, is the Memorial of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.

As a young woman, Frances founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in her native Italy and dreamed of traveling to China as a missionary. She even took as part of her religious name “Xavier” in honor of the great Jesuit missionary who traveled to the Far East to proclaim the Gospel to other nations and peoples.

Frances Xavier Cabrini never made it to the Far East. Instead, in 1887 Pope Leo XIII asked her to “go west, not east” in order to serve the large number of Italian immigrants who had arrived in the United States in the 1880s.

Mother Cabrini’s work among Italian immigrants in New York City led ultimately to the foundation of many hospitals, schools and orphanages in different regions of this country and in many other countries as well. She died in Chicago in 1917 at the age of 67. In 1946, Mother Cabrini became the first American citizen to be canonized a saint. She is known as the patron saint of both immigrants and hospital administrators.

St. Frances Cabrini was recently the subject of some controversy in her adopted hometown. In 2019, New York City sponsored a program called, “She built NYC,” to erect monuments to honor women who have helped make New York City great. Mother Cabrini received the most votes from New Yorkers to receive a monument in her honor. However, the organizers decided not to honor Mother Cabrini with a statue. Many New Yorkers—especially Italian-Americans—reacted to what some termed a “racist” and “anti-Catholic” decision. Within days, the decision was reversed, and it was announced that a statue in honor of Mother Cabrini’s work with immigrants would be built in Battery Park overlooking New York Harbor. The statue was unveiled on Columbus Day in October of 2020.

We are right to honor this great saint—especially now when we are experiencing an international crisis of immigration as well as a pandemic that has severely tested the ability of health care workers to provide urgently needed care to those who are most vulnerable.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, herself an immigrant, is a model for all of us. Her ministry reminds us that Jesus, Mary and Joseph (the Holy Family) were once refugees who fled the political tyranny and vicious brutality of King Herod. They were migrants who spent years living in a foreign land, a situation now shared by millions of people who have left their homes desperately seeking safety and a better life.

As Catholics, we are challenged to extend to all the unconditional love of Jesus. We must welcome strangers and work to make everyone feel at home. As Americans, we should support our nation’s efforts to regulate the processes that govern immigration and refugee resettlement, and at the same time, we must not turn our backs on those who come to us—often in desperate circumstances—seeking freedom and a better life for their families.

Our Church teaches that in all instances the rights of individuals and families must be protected, and that we place concern for human dignity above political or practical expediency. We take this responsibility so seriously that Church teaching points out that, as citizens, we may be obliged in conscience not to follow laws or regulations that are contrary to the fundamental rights of persons or the teaching of the Gospel (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2242).

The witness of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini reminds us that no matter where we come from originally, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the one family of God. As citizens of a free society, we have a responsibility to promote the common good—for the sake of our nation and the community of nations. Peace and prosperity should be available to all people regardless of their race, ethnic origin and/or religious preferences. We should be open to all, welcoming of all and respectful of both the differences that divide us and the fundamental humanity that unites us.

We are fortunate that our archdiocese has two patron saints, Francis Xavier and Mother Theodore Guérin, who were tireless missionaries and who, like Mother Cabrini, gave themselves wholeheartedly to serving the people of God in lands that were far from their homelands.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, patron saint of immigrants, pray for us. †

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