Put Out into the Deep

One Hopeful Moment During a Devastating Year for NYers

The statue of St. Frances Cabrini in Battery Park, unveiled on Columbus Day, “is truly unique and a tribute to the life and genius of Mother Cabrini,” Bishop DiMarzio (right) says. (Photo: Dustin Etheridge)

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

October is the time of year we look back on some of our historical roots. For the Italian population, it is the month we remember Christopher Columbus, a Genovese sailor, who under the flag of Spain discovered the New World. The Hispanic Community celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, recognizing the beginning of the New World discovery united by the Spanish language which, in reality, Columbus began. The history of colonization is obviously not something to be celebrated. But the colonization, despite its negativity, also began an era of discovery and development, which has led to the North and South American Continents being foremost in the development of this hemisphere.

The controversy surrounding Columbus has mainly been brought about by a historical reinvention of his personal involvement in some of the ills that followed colonization. Clearly, he was not involved with the enslavement of the Indians. That came long after him and could never be directly attributed to Columbus.

The fact is that the spiritual character of Christopher Columbus would not have allowed him to subjugate those whom he hoped to evangelize. In fact, his last voyage ended up with him returning to Spain in chains because of the complaints of those who were initiating taking advantage of the Native population, which Columbus was against. I leave it to better historians to rehabilitate the now tarnished image of Christopher Columbus, but from my reading of history, some are making a terrible mistake.

This Columbus Day was a day without a parade given the COVID restrictions, but one in which the State of New York celebrated with the placement of a statue to Saint Frances Cabrini in Battery Park. A picture of the statue is included. It is truly unique and a tribute to the life and genius of Mother Cabrini.

The statue in Battery Park faces both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, icons sacred to the immigration history of our country. Mother Cabrini, as you can see, is standing in what is a paper boat. In her childhood, she had the habit of making paper boats and floating them on the stream. Her dream, even as a child, was to be a missionary in foreign lands. Unfortunately, one day she tumbled into the water and almost drowned. During the rest of her life, she had the recurring dream of drowning and the image of the paper boat. Although she was afraid of water, she crossed the Atlantic Ocean at least sixty times in the period in which she worked with immigrants, not only in the United States, but also in Central America, Brazil, and Argentina.

Mother Cabrini was certainly a woman who built New York and whose statue all Catholics can be proud of as it stands as a memorial to a woman who acted out of the feminine character for the time. I am happy to announce that the Diocese of Brooklyn will also have its own statue that has been paid for by the collection we took up when the City denied Mother Cabrini a statue. It will be placed at Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen Church, the parish now closest to where she worked. The cornerstone of the church in which she actually worked will be placed as part of the pedestal of the statue. The statue we have commissioned will picture Mother Cabrini as she looked when she worked in the parish in her forties with two immigrant children dressed in period costumes.

The history of the ministry of Mother Cabrini in our diocese will also be depicted on a plaque on the platform on which the statue will rest. I am grateful to the committee, especially to Monsignor David Cassato and John Heyer, who headed the effort in our Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens to raise the funds and erect the statue. It will be our diocesan personal contribution to remember her. We hope to dedicate the statue sometime before Christmas this year.

Last week I gave a summary of the encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti. I believe in New York we experienced the sentiments expressed by the Holy Father as we celebrated the statue of St. Frances Cabrini in Battery Park, because the committee that Governor Cuomo put together for the selection of the site and statue, of which I was Co-Chair with Angelo Vivolo, consisted of a mirror image of the variety of ethnic groups in the City of New York. I was proud to be able to assist in this effort. As we still struggle with the pandemic and its restrictions, we put out into the deep in challenging the idea that religious services are somehow not essential. Hopefully, at some point, all of our churches will be able to open at a reasonable capacity, always taking the precautions necessary to never be involved in spreading the coronavirus.

Our prayers go out to all our fellow co-religionists who suffer under these restrictions. For some, it is more difficult to get compliance, but I am proud of the great co-operation we have had in Brooklyn and Queens from our priests and people. It gives us an opportunity to remember who we are, no matter what our ethnic origins, and to be proud of our country, which, with all its faults, still is a model of inter-ethnic cooperation, dialogue, and working relationships.

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