Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Chicago's saint

Stained glass window of Mother Cabrini
From St Josaphat Basilica, Milwaukee.
Today is the feast of Chicago's very own Mother Cabrini. Her story, from over 100 years ago, can seem a bit outdated, but it is more relevant than ever in our current American Catholic situation. Why? Because in the mid-1800's (just as today), a great percentage of Catholics in America were immigrants or the children of immigrants, and they were not exactly the darlings of the populace. Prejudice was acceptable when it had to do with recognized undesirables like Indians, Jews and Catholics ("Irish need not apply" for jobs in Boston). Even worse was the situation of those who came to the US from non-English speaking countries like Italy. From the "open door" policy that let in most of our ancestors without any restriction, quota systems were put in place to keep the numbers down from unfavored nations. (Those quotas still have a prominent place in US immigration law!)

It was the Pope himself who recognized the need for special pastoral concern for immigrants in the Americas, and who personally commissioned St. Frances Cabrini as a "missionary" to the Catholic immigrants, rather than to the unbaptized in China (where she had intended to go).

We need the spirit of Mother Cabrini perhaps more than ever today in this U.S. Catholic community which will only survive (demographically speaking) because of Hispanic immigrants--and even then, only if we help them to keep the faith: something which may involve, as it did in Mother Cabrini's time, offering material and social support to keep their families intact, and support for their spiritual life in the language those families speak. It would seem a no-brainer, except for something I heard Sunday at the Bishops/Bloggers meeting: Uber-blogger Rocco Palmo (who has more connections to the Vatican than most bishops) commented that he never gets such vitriolic comments and e-mail as when he posts in Spanish for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Accusations of being "un-American"; of being a "bad American" can only come from Catholics who prioritize their citizenship over their faith, or who practice the faith as a particular kind of ornament on their patriotism. They seem not to realize that the Catholic Church in the U.S. will be again a Church of immigrant families, or it will not exist at all within a generation, and they have forgotten what Paul said about the Body of Christ: that there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, Parthian, Sythian, slave or free, but all are one in Christ Jesus.

St. Frances Cabrini, pray for us and for the Catholic Church in the United States, your adopted homeland!

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