Chicago-area Catholics are hoping that unaccompanied immigrant children will feel the love that comes with the more than 1,300 stuffed animals collected by their parishes. “The message we are sending is to embrace these children,” said Lupe Partida of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, 3200 E. 91st St., “to give them the sense of having encountered Jesus, who said ‘Let the children come to me.’” The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Immigration Education hosted an Oct. 15 prayer service to bless the toys before they were loaded onto a truck offered by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and sent off to their new young owners. The effort started over the summer, when the more than 40 parishes that participate in Pastoral Migratoria, or immigrant-to-immigrant ministry, began collecting stuffed animals for the roughly 400 unaccompanied immigrant children being housed in the Chicago area. They soon had about 700 cuddly toys, as much as the agencies that run the children’s shelters were able to accept, said Elena Segura, director of the immigration office. Toys kept coming in, however. Then Segura learned that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York is working closely with the Children’s Village, which is operating 13 detention centers housing more than 3,000 children, and offered to send the stuffed animals to them. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago offered to take them by truck, a trip that could have cost $4,000 had the office paid commercial rates. Meanwhile, children in the religious education program at St. Rita of Cascia Parish, 6243 S. Fairfield, wrote messages of support and encouragement for the children being detained in New York. Unaccompanied children from Central America crossing the border into the United States drew media attention over the summer, when it was estimated that as many as 90,000 minors would make their way into the United States this year without documentation. The children and youth are most often fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries. Attention has flagged in recent weeks as other stories caught the attention of news programs, but the children still need help, said Auxiliary Bishop John Manz, who led the prayers and blessed the toys. “Even though the news items have kind of dropped from the scene, they’re still there,” Bishop Manz said. Sacred Heart Father Timothy Gray, a member of Priests for Justice for Immigrants, welcomed participants to the prayer service at the Cardinal Meyer Center, 3525 S. Lake Park Ave. More than 140 parishes, institutions and individuals have donated $40,000 to help the unaccompanied children, he said, in addition to the toys. The Office for Immigration Affairs continued to pray for the unaccompanied children and for comprehensive immigration reform with a prayer service, pilgrimage and Mass led by San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller on Oct. 24. The prayer service started at Federal Plaza, 230 S. Dearborn St. More than 200 participants then walked in procession to St. Peter’s in the Loop, 110 W. Madison St., for the Mass.