Do you know St. Frances Xavier Cabrini? You may know her as the first American saint, others remember her as the founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But how many remember Mother Cabrini as the patron saint of immigrants, a fierce advocate for humans of all skin tones and a humanitarian with a deep passion for promoting the dignity and rights of every person.
Maria Francesca Cabrini was born in 1850 in Italy where she dreamed becoming a missionary in China. Pope Leo XIII had other plans, however, and sent young Frances not to the East, but to the West to work among Italian Immigrants in New York City.
In this period of our history, Italians were leaving their homeland by the thousands for many of the same reasons immigrants are forced to migrate today: instability, conflict, ties to family. Mother Cabrini’s lifetime was known as the “new immigration” era in which over 3 million Italians made the perilous journey to seek refuge in America. At the time, this was viewed as one of the largest population shifts in history. Fast-forward to 2017 and we are witnessing a similar displacement of people but at a greater magnitude.
“The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us,” Pope Francis, 2016
According to Catholic Relief Services, the war in Syria has killed over 400,000 Syrians, and displaced more than 11 million civilians and counting. Millions of people have not only lost their homes but are struggling to retain the promise of a bright future for their children.
Similarly, hundreds of thousands of children, women and families are being forced to flee the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) due to harsh push factors such as gang violence, extreme poverty, unemployment and climate change.
This harsh reality cannot be that far off from the very same factors that forced our grandparents and great grandparents to leave their homelands with hope for a better tomorrow for you and me. Even though for some, a tomorrow was not always guaranteed.
“In fact, many of the extreme hardships, racism and downright unfair treatment that our ancestors faced is very similar to those of migrants this very day: Long, treacherous and sometimes unbearable journeys across oceans and deserts. Prejudice. Extreme poverty upon arrival. Language barriers. Religious differences. Threats. Cold-hardheartedness.”
Upon her arrival to the United States until the day she died, Mother Cabrini and her sisters dedicated their entire lives to serving, loving and helping the immigrants they encountered. Mother Cabrini crossed the ocean 25 times despite a severe fear of water from the experience of almost drowning as a child. She traveled constantly to carry out her work despite her frail health. This fierce dedication to compassion, bravery and love led to the founding of 67 institutions – schools, hospitals to care for the poor and the sick in New York, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans as well as in several continents all over the world (Europe, North, South America).
In 1880, Pope Leo desperately urged for the care of the Italian immigrants coming to the United States much like Pope Francis does today. In fact, this September, Pope Francis launched the “Share the Journey” campaign in which he invites us all to “Share the Journey” with refugees and migrants around the world. The focus of the campaign is to see through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye. In the words of Pope Francis, “Not just to see but to look. Not just to hear but to listen. Not just to meet and pass by, but to stop. And don’t just say ‘what a shame, poor people,’ but allow ourselves to be moved by pity.”
However, how many of us ignore this call and continue to turn our backs on those who need us the most? How many of us would go above and beyond our call, like Mother Cabrini did, to serve others?
During his visit to the United States to speak to Congress, Pope Francis urged, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). This rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities that we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”
In the words of our hero, friend and patroness of all fleeing their homes and facing vicious persecution, “Take to heart the interests of the poor immigrants and direct them well when they land on these shores.” –St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.
Molly P. Seaman is a senior at Cabrini University studying digital communication. She also serves as a CRS Campus Ambassador.