Pope Francis: Mother Cabrini Is a Model for Caring for Migrants

The Holy Father said Jan. 15 that her witness can help us learn ‘to take care of our foreign brother, in whom Jesus is present, often suffering.’

A statue of Mother Frances Cabrini adorns an outdoor shrine in her honor.
A statue of Mother Frances Cabrini adorns an outdoor shrine in her honor. (photo: Mother Cabrini Shrine Instagram)

VATICAN CITY — On the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis pointed to St. Frances Cabrini as an example of how to treat foreigners, calling her a “courageous” woman who knew how to bring God’s love to those who were lonely and in hardship.

After praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 15, Pope Francis sent a special greeting to members of different ethnic communities who had gathered in honor of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

“I wish that you can live peacefully in the towns that welcome you, respecting their laws and traditions and, at the same time, maintaining the values of your cultures of origin,” the Pope said, adding that “the meeting of different cultures is always an enrichment for all.”

Speaking to those who work directly with migrants, the Pope thanked them for the welcome and accompaniment they provide to newcomers and encouraged them to continue their efforts, “always remembering the example of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini,” who is remembered in a special way this year, which marks the centenary of her death.

“This courageous sister dedicated her life to bringing the love of Christ to those who were far from their homelands and families,” he said, adding that her witness can help us learn “to take care of our foreign brother, in whom Jesus is present, often suffering, rejected and humiliated.”

St. Frances, more commonly known as “Mother Cabrini,” was an Italian missionary who spent much of her life working with Italian immigrants in the United States. Though she had a deathly fear of water and drowning, she crossed the Atlantic Ocean more than 30 times in service of the Church and the people she was assisting.

After arriving in the United States, she wasted no time getting to work, traveling not only overseas, but also throughout the U.S., setting up orphanages, hospitals, convents and schools for the often-marginalized Italian immigrants.

Eventually, St. Frances became a naturalized U.S. citizen. She died in 1917 and was canonized in 1946, just before a new wave of immigrants began to arrive in the U.S. Due to her tireless service to struggling foreigners, she was named patron of immigrants.

Announced Oct. 13, the theme for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees is “Child Migrants, the Vulnerable and the Voiceless,” and is meant to draw attention to the plight of the many children who suffer due to various forms of slavery and exploitation.

Speaking of the theme, Pope Francis said these “small brothers and sisters of ours, especially those who are unaccompanied, are exposed to so much danger.” Because of this, we must “adopt every possible measure in order to guarantee child migrants protection and defense, as well as their integration.”

In his address before the Angelus, the Pope focused on the day’s Gospel passage from John, in which John the Baptist, in seeing Jesus come toward him, says: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

With these words, John is bearing witness to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, the Pope said, and recounting the scene, he noted how John had been preaching the coming of the Messiah and encouraging his followers to repent.

Then the moment arrives when Jesus “presents himself on the bank of the river, in the midst of the people, sinners — like each of us,” Francis said, noting that this was Jesus’ first public act since leaving his home in Nazareth.

When the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove as the voice of the Father proclaims that he is his beloved Son, John recognizes it as the sign that he has been waiting for: Jesus is in fact the Messiah.

John, he said, was “baffled,” because the Messiah manifested himself in “an unthinkable way: in the midst of sinners, baptized like them.”

“But the Holy Spirit illuminates John and makes him understand that this is how God’s justice is fulfilled, how his design of salvation is fulfilled.” Jesus is the Messiah, showing himself not with “the power of this world,” but “as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

“It’s decisive for our faith and it’s decisive also for the mission of the Church,” he said of this passage, explaining that in every age the Church “is called to do what John the Baptist did: to show Jesus to the people.”

When during Mass the priest presents the bread and wine that have become the Body and Blood of Christ to the people, this “act represents the entire mission of the Church, which does not announce herself, but announces Christ; does not bring herself, but brings Christ.”

This, Pope Francis said, is because “it is he and only he who saves his people from sin, frees them and guides them to the land of life and freedom.”