When parishioners of a Chicago Catholic church noticed an influx of migrants in need, they decided to take action. Their outreach, the pastor says, comes from their love of the Eucharist.
“Because we work hard to keep the Eucharist at the center of our parish life and the life of our families, our people’s generous response to the migrant crisis is a natural fruit of living a Eucharistic life,” Father Dominic Clemente, the pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church, told Our Sunday Visitor.
During National Migration Week held Sept. 18-24, St. Edward’s will offer their migrant brothers and sisters hot meals and showers in an event they hope to repeat in the future. The parish also recently raised thousands of dollars and applied for a grant in order to sponsor two migrant families.
The parish, Father Clemente said, just helped one of those families move into an apartment.
“Seeing our youngest parishioners playing with the children of this family was adorable,” he remembered, adding that many parishioners donated items to furnish the apartment and one parishioner donated the apartment itself.
Their outreach comes as more than 13,500 migrants or asylum seekers have entered the city since Aug. 2022, according to the City of Chicago. While most are from Venezuela, people travel from all over the world, including countries from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
“We live less than a mile away from our local police station, so parishioners see the migrants sleeping in and around the station,” he explained. “We’ve seen an increase in adults and children begging for money on the roadside.”
A group of parishioners, he said, came together and discussed ways to help.
“The people of St. Edward know we’re called to serve Christ in our neighbor,” he said.
As a result, on Sept. 21, the parish will provide free hot meals and showers, including towels, soap, and shampoo. They will also offer a free bus service between the local police station and the church.
“From what we hear from the volunteers at the Police Station, there seems to be a steady flow of migrants coming and going each month,” Father Clemente said of the need. “Sounds like they have between 40-60 people at a time.”
Already, the parish hopes to make this a repeat event.
“We do plan to offer this as often as possible,” Father Clemente said. “We will make adjustments as necessary and offer another one as soon as we can.”
Helping migrant families in need
In addition to offering food and showers, the parish is supporting two families through the Catholic Charities family sponsorship program, Father Clemente revealed.
The program requires that a parish has funding of up to $10,000 to support a family for six months, he described. Their parish raised $7,000. Then, they applied for another $13,000 through the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago (which offers grants to parishes who want to sponsor families) so that they could support two families.
In addition to recently moving one family into an apartment, Father Clemente shared that the parish will supplement that family for other expenses as they get on their own feet.
“More importantly we accompany them to feel at home in our neighborhood and part of our parish family,” he said.
He stressed that everyone’s generosity comes from their love of the Eucharist.
“The families most involved are families that come to Holy Mass every Sunday, and that’s not a coincidence,” he said. “The Eucharist moves us to do more than donate money or old clothes. The Eucharist draws us into deeper communion with almighty God and each other.”
Living the Eucharistic Revival
With the National Eucharistic Revival — an ongoing initiative by the U.S. Catholic bishops to renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with Christ in the holy Eucharist — Father Clemente shared how ministering to migrants can be a concrete means of “Eucharistic Living.”
“My team works hard to keep the Eucharist at the center of everything we do,” Father Clemente said, from their school’s focus on the Mass and Eucharistic adoration to making their liturgies more reverent and Theocentric.
“The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass literally sends us out to preach the Good News: Jesus is risen from the dead!” he added. “We preach on this constantly and remind our people the goal that we become who we receive in the Eucharist so that we can better serve Christ in our neighbor.”
A bishop’s take
Bishop Mark Bartosic, an auxiliary bishop of Chicago, also shared how serving the migrant community can be a concrete means of Eucharistic living. He drew from a poem he is reading: “The Portal of the Mystery of Hope” by Charles Péguy.
“There’s this beautiful line — ‘Fragile creatures, it depends on us whether the eternal word/Resounds or does not resound,'” he cited. “On page after page Peguy contemplates the beautiful fact that the Lord’s eternal, divine word has been spoken to us.”
“Do we repeat it? Do we preserve and nourish it? Do we let it shape our lives?” he commented.
“The importance of doing precisely that, as well as the presence of so many refugees and asylum seekers in our country demands that we hear the famous words of Jesus, ‘this is my body’ in tandem with these other well-known words: ‘…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,'” he urged.
He called the fragility of life for refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. “Biblical in scope.”
“The Old Testament prophets insisted that our forebears provide (food, clothing, shelter) for the stranger among them,” he concluded. “This was ‘who we are’ among the nations.”