STAMFORD—“I come here with a very simple message: our Church and its people stand by all who are here with us, whether documented or undocumented,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said to members of St. Mary Parish in Stamford this afternoon.
The bishop’s visit to the parish, founded in 1907 and built by Irish and other immigrants, began with Mass in the historic Church on 566 Elm Street.
Almost 1,000 turned out for the 1 pm Spanish Mass followed by lunch in the large basement room under the Church. The bishop celebrated the Mass in Spanish and was assisted by Fr. Gustavo Falla, pastor and Fr. Abelardo Vasquez, parochial vicar.
The Mass was occasioned by a growing concern about the impact of immigration policies that are dividing young families and creating fear in the community.
Just before Thanksgiving a woman and mother of two young children from the parish received a deportation notice. Earlier in the year, parishioners of St. Jerome Church in Norwalk rallied to support a mother who also faced deportation.
“The Church does not approve of this kind of behavior. It does not want to see families broken up,” he said.
“We live in a troubled time and there are many challenges we face together,” the bishop said in brief remarks at the end of Mass. “I come here to assure you that you are never far from my heart and from your brothers and sisters across the diocese.”
During the panel discussion after lunch, men and women, many with young children sitting quietly beside them, listened intently as Bishop Caggiano shared his own family’s immigration experience. He said that his father came to the United States in 1955, and his mother followed in 1957.
He told the Spanish-speaking parishioners that his father arrived here with a third grade education and his mother had completed 8th grade. They left their poor Italian village for economic opportunity, and were fortunate to come to the country that welcomed immigrants.
“The nation is beginning to forget its soul,” the bishop said, “but the Church has not forgotten. We will always be a nation of immigrants. We stand with you.”
Bishop Caggiano said the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has advocated for immigration reform that supports the presence of the “Dreamers” in and creates a path to citizenship for those already in the U.S.
The bishop added that one of “the finest diocesan seminarians is a “Dreamer” who is at risk of deportation if Congress does not amend the law.
He said most of the undocumented have lived in this country for years, paid taxes and have been good citizens. Others fled for their lives when they entered illegally, and many receive bad legal advice.
The bishop said he is also deeply troubled by immigrations policies “that are beginning to break up the family of God in addition to individual families.
Attendance in some Spanish-speaking parishes in Bridgeport is down by 30 percent. Likewise fewer families are attending events or enrolling their children in schools.
“This is breaking my heart,” said the bishop about the fear that is driving many people into hiding. “I need for you to know that everyone is welcome. Do not be afraid to come and worship at Mass or attend programs.”
The bishop said that the present immigration laws are not working and that the Bishops will continue to advocate for justice and outreach to immigrants.
Alex Arevalo, director of immigration services, for Catholic Charities, shared his own path to citizenship and discussed the services available to those in need of help.
Just before the final blessing, the bishop told the gathering, “This is only the beginning of our conversation. We will do more outreach in the months ahead. We stand with you and also ask for your prayers.”