© L'Osservatore Romano

Chicago: Saint Cabrini was a True Missionary

Pope Francis Receives Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

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Saint Cabrini - Wikimedia Commons“Saint Cabrini was a true missionary,” Pope Francis said on December 9, 2017, the first centenary of the saint’s death. “She had grown up keeping before her the example of St. Francis Xavier, the pioneer of evangelization in the East.”
The Holy Father’s remarks came during an audience with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace.
Pope Francis pointed out the relevance of Saint Cabrini’s mission today’s world. She served migrants, making 24 ocean voyages and helping migrants from the Andes to Chicago.
“Her charisma is of extraordinary current relevance, because migrants certainly need good laws, development programs, and organization, but they also always need, first and foremost, love, friendship, and human closeness; they need to be heard, to have people look into their eyes, to be accompanied; they need God, Whom they encounter in the gratuitous love of a woman who, with her consecrated heart, is your sister and mother,” said the Pope.
Mother Cabrini died in Chicago, on December 22, 1917, at the age of 67. She was beatified on November 13, 1938, by Pope Pius XI, and canonized by Pope Pius XII on July 7, 1946, making her the first US citizen to be canonized. Her feast day is celebrated on November 13; she is the patron saint of immigrants.
Address of the Holy Father
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome all of you, representatives of the Cabrinian Family, who wish in this way to conclude the celebrations for the centenary of the birth of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini. On 17 December 1917 this holy woman, who had crossed the ocean twenty-four times to assist migrants in the Americas, and who tirelessly traveled as far as the Andes and also in Argentina, suddenly died in Chicago, and departed for her final trip.
I greet H.E. Msgr. Rino Fisichella, who follows you with great affection; and I thank the Mother, Barbara Louise Staley, for her words of greeting and for her active commitment, where there are migrants, to make ever present the acceptance and the witness of Christian love.
Saint Cabrini was a true missionary. She had grown up keeping before her the example of St. Francis Xavier, the pioneer of evangelization in the East. She kept China in her heart and hoped to take the proclamation of the Gospel to that distant land. She did not think of the thousands and thousands of emigrants who, due to hunger, lack of work and the lack of a future, embarked with their few belongings to reach America, driven by the dream of a better life. As we know, it was the farsightedness of Pope Leo XIII that, with a joke, made her change course: “Not to the east, Cabrini, but to the West!” The young Mother, who had just founded the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, had to open her eyes to see where God had sent her on a mission. Not where she wanted to go, but where He had prepared for her the way, the path of service and holiness. Here is the example of a true vocation: to forget oneself in order to surrender oneself fully to God’s love.
After so many years, the situation of migrants, to whom Saint Frances Xavier dedicated all her life, has evolved and is more topical than ever. New faces of men, women, and children, marked by so many forms of poverty and violence, stand before our eyes and hope to find on their way outstretched hands and welcoming hearts like those of Mother Cabrini. In particular, you are offered the responsibility of being faithful to the mission of your Holy Founder. Her charisma is of extraordinary current relevance, because migrants certainly need good laws, development programs, and organization, but they also always need, first and foremost, love, friendship, and human closeness; they need to be heard, to have people look into their eyes, to be accompanied; they need God, Whom they encounter in the gratuitous love of a woman who, with her consecrated heart, is your sister and mother.
May the Lord always renew in you the attentive and merciful gaze towards the poor who live in our cities and in our countries. Mother Cabrini had the courage to look into the eyes of the orphaned children entrusted to her, the young people without work who were tempted to commit crimes, the men and women exploited for the most humble jobs; and therefore today we are here to thank God for his holiness. In each of those brothers and sisters, she recognized the face of Christ and, brilliant as she was, was able to put to good use the talents that the Lord had entrusted to her (cf. Mt 25: 14-23). She had a strong sense of apostolic action; and if she had had such a great energy to accomplish extraordinary work in just a few years, it was due only to her union with Christ, following the model of Saint Paul, whose motto she adopted: “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me” (Phil 4: 13). A dizzying life full of work, endless trips on foot, by train, by ship, by boat, by horse …; creating from nothing sixty seven works including kindergartens, schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages, laboratories … all to propagate the power of the Gospel, which had enlarged her heart so that it could belong to everyone.
Saint Cabrini lived with the spirituality of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Step after step, hers was an existence wholly devoted to consoling and to making the Sacred Heart known and loved. And this made her able to look at the hearts of those who approached and assisted her, to correspond in a coherent way. This important anniversary reminds us all, strongly, of the need for a faith that knows how to grasp the moment of grace that one lives. As difficult as it may seem, it tells us that we must do as she did: to be able to grasp the signs of our time, to interpret them in the light of the Word of God and to live them in such a way as to provide an answer that may reach the heart of every person.
Dear sisters, and dear brothers who share the Cabrinian charism, I thank you for your effort. I accompany you with my apostolic blessing, and I ask each one of you not to forget to pray for me.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
In addition to his December 9, 2017, address, Pope Francis sent a letter to the Reverend Mother Sister Barbara Louise Staley, General Superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during the congregation’s observance of the death centennial of their foundress with a general assembly in Chicago, September 17 – 23, 2017.
Here is the Vatican translation of the letter
To the Reverend Mother
Sister Barbara Louise Staley
General Superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The centennial of the death of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini is one of the main events marking the journey of the Church both because of the greatness of the figure commemorated and because of the contemporary nature of her charism and message, not just for the ecclesial community but for society as a whole. Through this message of mine and my prayers, it is my wish therefore to participate in spirit in the General Assembly which as the Institute of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and its lay collaborators you will hold from September 17 to 23 this year in Chicago near the National Shrine named after your beloved Foundress and Patron Saint of Immigrants.
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini accepted a missionary vocation from God, which in those days could have been considered unusual – to train and send consecrated women all over the world setting no limits to missionary horizons, not just as auxiliaries of religious institutes or male missionaries but with their own charism as consecrated women religious. At the same time, these women were willing to collaborate fully and totally with both local churches and with various congregations dedicated to proclaim the gospel ad gentes. This clearly feminine, missionary consecration born in Mother Cabrini came from the total and loving union with the Heart of Christ whose compassion surpasses all limits. She lived and instilled in her sisters the impelling desire of reparation for the ills of the world and to overcome separation from Christ, an impetus that sustained the missionary in tasks beyond human strength. She took St. Paul’s claim, “I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) as her motto. This motto was borne out by the surprising number and by the importance of the works that she undertook during her lifetime in Italy, France, Spain, Great Britain, the United States, Central America, Argentina and Brazil. But her love for the Heart of Christ translated into the evangelical fervor that shines out in the care Frances Xavier Cabrini gave to those who today are considered emarginated in society. One such example was when Mother Cabrini opened a house in the most infamous Italian quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, just one year after the cruel lynching of Italians accused of having murdered the city’s Chief of Police.
The charism of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini enlivened a total and intelligent dedication to the immigrants who left Italy for the New World. This choice was the fruit of her sincere and loving obedience to the Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII, and it extended to other fields of missionary work as well. Today’s epoch-making population movements with the inevitable tensions they create make Mother Cabrini a very contemporary figure. In particular, the Saint focused attention on situations of greatest poverty and fragility such as the needs of orphans and miners. She combined that with a lucid cultural sensitivity by continuous dialog with local authorities. She undertook to conserve and revive in the immigrants the Christian tradition they knew in their country of origin, a religiosity which was sometimes superficial and often imbued with authentic popular mysticism. At the same time, she offered ways to fully integrate with the culture of the new countries so that the Missionary Mothers accompanied the Italian immigrants in becoming fully Italian and fully American. The human and Christian vitality of the immigrants thus became a gift to the churches and to the peoples who welcomed them. The great migrations underway today need guidance filled with love and intelligence similar to what characterizes the Cabrinian charism. In this way, the meeting of peoples will enrich all and generate union and dialog, not separation and hostility. Nor must we forget that the missionary sensitivity of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was not sectorial but universal; that is the vocation of every Christian and of every community of the disciples of Jesus.
The present centennial celebration is an invitation to take a new look at all this with intimate and joyful gratitude to God. This is a great gift above all for you, the spiritual daughters of Mother Cabrini. May your whole Institute, every community and every religious receive an abundant BOLLETTINO N. 0611 – 19.09.2017 4 effusion of the Holy Spirit that revitalizes faith and the following of Jesus in accordance with the missionary charism of your Foundress. May your many faithful lay collaborators share and support your evangelical work in the current social context. For my part, I assure you of my remembrance and prayers with deep affection, both because I have always known the figure of Mother Cabrini and because of the special concern I devote to the cause of immigrants. While I ask you to pray for me and for my ministry, from my heart I send a special Apostolic Blessing to your Assembly, to the Congregation and to the whole Cabrinian family.
From the Vatican, 29 August 2017
Memory of martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist
[Original text: Italian] © Libreria Editrice Vatican

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Jim Fair

Jim Fair is a husband, father, grandfather, writer, and communications consultant. He also likes playing the piano and fishing. He writes from the Chicago area.

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