St. Frances Cabrini is modern model for handling migration, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — St. Frances Cabrini, the missionary to
Italian immigrants in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s, “teaches
us the path to handling the epochal phenomenon of migration by joining charity
and justice,” Pope Francis said.

The nun, who died Dec. 22, 1917, in Chicago, “understood
that modernity would be marked by these enormous migrations and by human beings
who were uprooted, in a crisis of identity, often desperate and lacking the
resources needed” to make a new life in a new land, the pope said.

Pope Francis wrote about the nun, the first U.S. citizen to become
a saint, in the preface to a new Italian biography of her. Lucetta Scaraffia, a
historian and frequent contributor to the Vatican newspaper, wrote the book, “Tra
Terra e Cielo” (“Between Earth and Heaven”).

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published the
pope’s preface Nov. 8.

St. Frances Cabrini wanted to be a missionary in China, but
Pope Leo XIII asked her to go instead to the United States to care for Italian
immigrants. “Frances obeyed,” Pope Francis wrote, “and a world
was thrown open before her: that of hundreds of thousands of human beings who
sought work and bread far from their homelands, risking long voyages that were
often dangerous in lands that were unknown and hostile.”

Sister Cabrini set up “large, beautiful and
lasting” schools, hospitals, orphanages and centers for welcoming and
assisting refugees, the pope said. When the large wave of Italian immigration
ended, she and her sisters focused on whatever group of newcomers needed their
help most.

But she “knew that it wasn’t enough to help them
materially, teach them the language of their new country and cure them when
they were sick,” the pope wrote; she also knew that their self-respect and
identity needed support and that the roots of both were found often in their

“Insertion into a new country meant accepting its rules
and laws” and being treated with dignity, the pope said. “These
objectives are still valid today” and include “the recognition of and
respect for one’s religious roots and those of others.”

The very concrete, but all-encompassing outreach of St.
Frances Cabrini, he said, is why it was “precisely a woman who became the patron
of migrants.”

She demonstrated what Pope Francis called “feminine
qualities — warmth, welcome, concreteness in meeting the needs of others, gracious
care of the weak — along with a holistic vision of the changes that were
taking place in the world.”

“She was a woman who knew how to unite great charity
with a prophetic spirit that understood modernity in its less positive aspects,
those aspects that involved the earth’s poor whom intellectuals and politicians
did not want to see,” he said.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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