I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me...

Immigration Ministry at St. Rita of Cascia Parish, Chicago

By Fr. Tony Pizzo, O.S.A.

St. Rita Parish, served by the Augustinian Friars of the Midwest Province has been serving Hispanic/Latino immigrants for approximately 25 years.  It was one of the first parishes in its immediate area of Vicariate V of the Archdiocese of Chicago to address the spiritual needs of the immigrant population.

St. Rita of Cascia Parish, Chicago

St. Rita of Cascia Parish, Chicago

For the past quarter decade although there have been several changes in priest personnel, the parish has remained faithful to its mission serving the local immigrant population.  The parish associates itself with the Office for Immigration and Education of the Archdiocese of ChicagoSouthwest Organizing Project as well as local agencies that support the needs of the immigrant population.  These collaborative relationships in the local community gained momentum in the mid 1990's and have strengthened most recently by creating interreligious relationships with local Muslim and Jewish communities respectively.  The continual expansion into these diverse relationships has created a sense of good will and good faith by working together addressing the continual demographic changes and needs racially, ethnically and religiously.

By focusing in on a comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform both on national and local levels, these inter-religious, inter-racial/ethnic and inter-political efforts have contributed to a steadily growing hope that legalization of millions of undocumented may be realized with the present administration in Washington, D.C.  This takes much time and energy that includes direct service and outreach to the vulnerable immigrant population that lives in fear of detention and deportation.  The recently developing ministry at St. Rita Parish as well as in various Catholic parishes, Pastoral Migratoria, defines itself as being "immigrant to immigrant" ministry through accompanying families and individuals vulnerable to morally questionable laws that separate families and contribute to the destabilization of local communities.  Prayer vigils, marches, Lenten Acts of Justice, strategic planning and other forms of local activities mobilize the local communities and offer a sense of hope for the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our neighborhood communities and religious and educational institutions.

The strategies employed immigration reform are realized through citizenship and voter's registration campaigns, Know Your Rights seminars, leadership development trainings and building a strong coalition of local leaders and the organizations and agencies that foster these relationships.  Included in these strategies are meetings with the elected officials who have decision making power to push this comprehensive reform through the Senate and the House of Representatives both on the State and Federal Levels.  Some of these meetings have helped to move these officials toward an affirmative vote in favor of the complex reform laws other have remained at a stalemate but these setbacks do not impede the momentum gained by these faith-filled communities and individuals who struggle to move this nation toward more just and compassionate laws in its treatment of those who are searching for a better life for themselves and their families.