Institute focuses on best immigration ministry practices, reasons for hope

Luis Enrique Vargas Almazan of Waukegan, Ill., visited with presenter Graciela Polanco-Hernandez of Mexico City July 30, 2022, as the National Pastoral Migratoria Institute hosted representatives from more than 20 U.S. dioceses at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (CNS Photo by Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

By Joyce Duriga

CHICAGO — The overarching message of the two-day National Pastoral Migratoria Institute held recently at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago was: “Hope is always present in the heart,” according to Carmen Aguinaco.

She made the remarks in her July 30 presentation at the institute for Catholics working with immigrants in dioceses around the country. Aguinaco is a former staff member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

Participants in the institute’s virtual and in-person meeting July 29-30 were there to learn best practices in ministry and to focus on hope for the future.

Pastoral Migratoria, a program of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Immigration Ministry, serves as a national model for immigrant leadership ministry and promotes the Gospel imperative to welcome the stranger and work for the common good of all.

Participants who joined virtually were from dioceses that currently have a Pastoral Migratoria ministry, including Baltimore; Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri; New York; and Stockton, California.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, which plan to develop Pastoral Migratoria ministries, participated in person, along with parishes from Chicago.

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, who is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, shared video messages of support with participants.

The National Pastoral Migratoria Institute held its first gathering in 2018 and went virtual during the pandemic. This year, organizers changed the original format from five days where diocesan leaders visited parishes that have Pastoral Migratoria ministries to the hybrid virtual and in-person meeting.

Elena Segura, senior national coordinator for immigration in the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the goal of the gathering was to encourage the leaders to be signs of hope and to give them reason for hope.

“The pandemic really affected in so many ways the ministry, not going to church physically, but they’ve been still accompanying immigrants in the parishes virtually in different ways,” she said. “Now we want to reenergize the ministries on a parish level. Also our main focus is hope.”

It is important to focus on hope, especially since the fight for immigration reform in the United States has been going on for 17 years, she said.

“We need to renew, to connect, to understand that revolutionary hope, that active hope, the hope that is from the Scripture and that’s what we’ve done here,” she said.

On the evening of July 29, Jesuit Father P. Conrado Zepeda who works in Chiapas, Mexico, offered a livestream presentation about the global reality of immigration and migration around the world, not just Mexico and the United States.

“It was a very panoramic view of what’s going on outside of the Mexico-U.S. border and the caravans — what’s also happening in Europe, Africa and what’s going on with the situation of refugees (from Ukraine) and the war,” said Juan Pablo Padilla, coordinator for Pastoral Juvenil in the Chicago Archdiocese and a volunteer with Pastoral Migratoria program in his parish, St. Mary Magdalene in Blue Island.

In another presentation, participants heard about a 15-year study of the mental health of migrant women in both Mexico and Illinois that was published in March.

Deacon Jose Cisneros, from St. Pius X-St. Leonard Parish in Berwyn, Illinois, has been involved in Pastoral Migratoria at his parish for many years.

“I myself am an immigrant and I worked for many years here without any papers and that was a big experience for me,” Cisneros, who attended the conference, told Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Julia O’Reilly Castillo also has volunteered in immigrant ministry for many years and has heard many stories of immigrants who have suffered coming to this country. Her husband is an immigrant and also was undocumented for many years.

“I came to realize that this is an issue that we as Catholics need to be involved with and we need to walk with the people,” she said. “That’s the accompaniment piece of Pastoral Migratoria.”

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