STAMFORD—In observance of the feast day of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, patron saint of immigrants, Sacred Heart Church celebrated Mass and held a panel discussion about the immigration services provided by Catholic Charities of Fairfield County.
In his homily, Msgr. Thomas Powers, vicar general of the diocese, described St. Frances Cabrini as a powerful example of a woman who understood the importance of loving your neighbor rather than humanity in the abstract.
“We have been made in the likeness of God and therefore we show we are responding to Jesus’s grace by caring for our neighbors and by caring for those we might not like as much, and for the foreigner who is escaping violence and poverty,” he said. “Mother Cabrini fought for the people she loved and cared for the poor and immigrants.”
Mother Cabrini, who was the first U.S. citizen to be canonized, started the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Italy with seven other women in 1880. The congregation provided support to Italian immigrants in the United States, and during the course of 35 years, she began 67 institutions to care for orphans, the poor, the sick and the uneducated. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1909.
Peg Regan, SSND, former executive director of Caroline House in Bridgeport, which teaches English as a Second Language and life skills to women, said, “Mother Cabrini was concerned about doing things for others, and all of her work came out of a heart full of empathy and concern for people who were suffering.” Sister Regan, who teaches ESL in Norwalk and is developing a program for Room to Grow, said Mother Cabrini’s example is especially relevant in America today, where immigration issues often provoke an acrimonious political debate.
Peter Maloney, a board member of Catholic Charities, said, “This was the second time we celebrated Mother Cabrini’s feast day at Sacred Heart. The first was in 2016 after an Italian Mass. We give her a lot of credit for being a person of tremendous strength, but often overlook that she worked against a tremendous tide of hate directed against Italian immigrants… I remember her strength every time some foolish or unkind word pops up in the media concerning today’s immigrants.”
More than 200 people turned out for the event titled, “A Celebration of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, Patroness of Immigrants,” which included a presentation about the services available through Catholic Charities of Fairfield County. The panelists were immigration counselors Alex Arevalo and Maria Palacios, and board members Daniel Casal and Maloney.
Father Alfonso Picone, pastor of Sacred Heart, thanked the panelists for their participation and said a prayer to Mother Cabrini that she intercede for the well-being of the immigrants and their families.
Alex Arevalo, who is program manager of Immigration Services, is accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeal to represent clients before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in matters of immigration. He said the team makes the annual visit to remind people of the services that are available to them through Catholic Charities.
“These are trying times for immigrants, and the Church needs to be there for them to explain faithfully what their options are for improving their lives and the lives of their children,” Arevalo said.
Arevalo has been with Catholic Charities since 2001, first working with at-risk youth, and since 2006 with immigration services.
“We have made an annual commitment to celebrate Mother Cabrini with different immigrant communities,” he said. “We help people navigate the complexity of immigration law, and we hope to continue to expand the program because of the growing need.”
He urged the audience members to make an appointment and visit the immigration services offices so that their cases can be analyzed individually. He also cautioned them and said immigration fraud by unauthorized practitioners is rampant.
The immigration team of Catholic Charities is recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals of the Department of Justice. The immigration services program provides affordable counseling and legal assistance to newcomers throughout Fairfield County regardless of race, religion, sex, creed or economic status. It also provides consultation on immigration-related problems, and accredited representation at USCIS Immigration appointments.
Service fees are nominal, and donations are welcome. Services are provided at two locations: The Catholic Center, 238 Jewett Avenue in Bridgeport and 174 Richmond Hill Avenue in Stamford.
(For more information or to make a donation, call 203.416.1322 or visit www.ccfairfield.org.)
By Joe Pisani