Parish’s Pastoral Migratoria ministry helps immigrants become citizens

| Joyce Duriga | April 23, 2019 | 0 Comments
Angela and Maximiliano Martinez participate in the Pastoral Migratoria program at St. Rita of Cascia Church in Bedford Park, Ill., March 30, 2019. Pastoral Migratoria is a parish-based, immigrant-to-immigrant ministry that began in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2009 and it includes a citizenship program. Through the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Migratoria is now being adopted in dioceses throughout the country.

Angela and Maximiliano Martinez participate in the Pastoral Migratoria program at St. Rita of Cascia Church in Bedford Park, Ill., March 30, 2019. Pastoral Migratoria is a parish-based, immigrant-to-immigrant ministry that began in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2009 and it includes a citizenship program. Through the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Migratoria is now being adopted in dioceses throughout the country. CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

When Evelyn Antonio talks about what becoming a U.S. citizen has meant to her, she gets tears in her eyes.

“I wanted to be able to bring my mom to live in the U.S. and to have the same rights as all citizens,” she said.

It’s been life-changing “to walk without fear and to have the same rights as everybody else,” Antonio added.

She was one of 101 people honored during a prayer service at St. Rita of Cascia Parish on a recent Saturday. All became citizens through the parish’s Pastoral Migratoria program.

Pastoral Migratoria is a parish-based, immigrant-to-immigrant ministry that began in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2009. Through the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it is now being adopted in dioceses throughout the country.

Antonio was the third person who became a citizen through the program, which graduated its first citizen in 2016. At the recent service, new citizens wore T-shirts with the number in the order that they became citizens.

St. Rita was the first parish to incorporate citizenship classes into its Pastoral Migratoria program. The program also does outreach to families, teens and young adults who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

The citizenship program is open to Catholics and non-Catholics, both Spanish and English speakers, and includes more than just preparation for the citizenship test.

“We walk with them from beginning to end,” said Adriana Morales, the Pastoral Migratoria coordinator.

For example, to apply for citizenship, candidates need to obtain certain documents and have them translated into English. Pastoral Migratoria helps with that.

The program’s volunteers also help them apply for fee waivers if their income is low and act as interpreters for the required interview with government officials.

“We have the experience of sitting before an actual immigration officer and going through the interview, which helps us to prepare our students, either Spanish or English students,” Morales said. Volunteers also accompany the applicants to the oath-taking ceremony.

“We never knew that we were going to be doing everything that we do now. We just thought we would be providing citizenship classes,” Morales said.

Today there are 75 people preparing to become citizens.

“St. Rita’s Pastoral Migratoria has always been creating models for other parishes to use,” said Elena Segura, associate director of the archdiocese’s Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity and senior coordinator for immigration and founder of Pastoral Migratoria.

“This is one of the largest Pastoral Migratoria programs we have in the archdiocese. It’s so sophisticated.”

St. Rita is staffed by the Augustinian religious community, which has always supported immigration reform efforts, Segura said. They have encouraged the parish community to reach out.

“I said at the end of the prayer service, ‘You know what you have done here? There are five or six parishes doing similar work because of this. You are the seed for other places,'” Segura told the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper. “What this parish is doing is now going to go national.”

There is an urgency, Segura said, on a national level to reach out to immigrants through ministries like Pastoral Migratoria.

“I’ve been talking to bishops, to priests all over the country and to anybody who would listen to me about this for a long time. And now there’s an urgency and they are calling, which is wonderful,” Segura said.

Pastoral Migratoria has long been implementing the spirit of an archdiocesan revitalization initiative for parishes and schools called “Renew My Church,” she said.

“What’s actually happening here is renewing the church. Because first the people in Pastoral Migratoria have an intimacy with God. They encounter God in the darkness, in the society and its treatment of immigrants. And then they are evangelizing their families,” Segura said. “To me, ‘Renew My Church’ started 10 years ago with Pastoral Migratoria.”

Duriga is editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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