Chicagoland

St. Rita Parish celebrates its 101 new citizens

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
April 10, 2019

St. Rita Parish celebrates its 101 new citizens

St. Rita of Cascia Parish’s Pastoral Migratoria citizenship outreach celebrated its 101st person becoming a U.S. citizen during a prayer service and blessing on March 30, 2019, at the church. St. Rita of Cascia's Pastoral Migratoria has offered classes to prepare people to become citizens of the United States since 2015.
Members of the congregation raise their hands in blessing over the people who have become citizens through St. Rita of Cascia Parish’s Pastoral Migratoria on March 30, 2019, at the church, 6243 S. Fairfield Ave. The group has offered citizenship classes since 2015. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Maria Tere Rodriguez, the 36th person to become a citizen, and Marta Carpio, the 65th person to become a citizen with the program’s help, participate in the service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parish and community leaders join the congregation in prayer. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Family members extend their hands in prayer over the new citizens. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Augustinian Father Homero Sanchez, pastor, addresses the gathering. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The new citizens sign their names on hearts that would be affixed to a wall outside the church. (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 March 30. 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 March 30 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.

They 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 said. “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 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.”

To learn more about Pastoral Migratoria, visit pvm.archchicago.org/human-dignity-solidarity/immigration-ministry.

 

Topics:

  • immigration ministry

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