My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This month on November 13, we celebrate the feast day of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. She has been much in the news lately; in our Tablet, at the Columbus Day parade and still being mentioned in what now has become a political issue in our city and state.
To refresh your memory, several months ago, the city commission — She Built NYC — was charged with finding notable women who had contributed to the building of New York City in order to erect statues of them since out of 150 statues in NYC, only five are dedicated to women. From over 2,000 people sending in nominations, a list of over 300 possible names was published by the commission of individuals nominated who they thought were worthy of such an honor. In fact, Mother Cabrini received 219 votes, three times more than anyone else who was nominated. However, she was not chosen, but six other women were picked to be commemorated with a statue.
Certainly, many in the Italian-American community and the Catholic community saw this as some kind of slight. I, myself, do not want to enter into any sort of political fight. After some prayer and consideration, and asking Mother Cabrini’s intercession, for whom I have a long devotion to, I decided that we would begin a campaign in the Diocese of Brooklyn to place a statue of Mother Cabrini in a prominent place. She worked here in Brooklyn, as she did in Manhattan, and many other cities in the United States and around the world.
As things developed, however, it seemed to get more and more politicized. This perhaps reached a peak when Mayor de Blasio seemingly did not heed the entreaties of some politicians and citizens to include Mother Cabrini on the list of those to receive this honor. In the end, he finally said that Mother Cabrini would be the first to be considered on the next list of statues to be built in the city, but did not say when that would happen.
Then it seemed that Governor Cuomo came to the rescue promising that the State would intervene and erect a statue on state land to the memory of Mother Cabrini and her position as the patron saint of immigrants, which was declared in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. This statue might have the presence of immigrants around her. This is of particular interest in light of a monument that was placed in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican just a month ago. It was crafted by Timothy Schmalz and blessed by Pope Francis. As we know, Pope Francis has been an untiring advocate for immigrants, especially in the European situation, where so many people are losing their lives in the Mediterranean Sea. He has often said, “There needs to be a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.” How important it is that we understand the symbolic nature of honoring Mother Cabrini in this way.
Each year in the diocese we hold an annual Italian Apostolate Day, alternating between Brooklyn and Queens. The event begins with a procession and culminates with Mass at a local parish. This year, the celebration was on Sunday, October 6, in Brooklyn, ending at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary/St. Stephens Church in Red Hook. In my homily, I said that I am sure that Mother Cabrini would not want another statue to her honor, especially since many of our Churches, most especially where our immigrants worship, have a statue where we can remember what she looked like and pray for her intercession to God.
It is a fact that the situations she found at the beginning of the 20th century are very similar to our own today, where immigrants are categorically discriminated against because of their place of origin and for the purported burden they are to society. She, a woman of courage and an outstanding worker for change in her time, can become for us the same patroness of social change, bringing good order to our complex, social problem of immigration today.
Again, this issue has been politicized as all social problems are. We must, however, bring the light of right reason and our Catholic moral principles to bear in forming our conscience, so that we can become true welcomers of the strangers, as Christ Himself taught us, just as Mother Cabrini did in her lifetime.
Mother Cabrini put out into the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean to find the immigrants who were discriminated against and needed education, health, and other services. We, too, should put out into the murky waters of our own misunderstandings and prejudices to find the courage needed today to become advocates for those immigrants most in need, just as Mother Cabrini was in her own time.