With the temperature hovering in the mid-30s, hundreds of asylum seekers from Latin America waited patiently outdoors on the Lower East Sidefor hot meals, donated clothing items, haircuts, access to legal counsel provided by Catholic Charities, and a Mass to be celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
About 500 people visited St. Theresa’s Church at 141 Henry Street, at the eastern edge of Chinatown, despite the cold weather. The majority of those participating in the November 19 event were Venezuelan and Colombian migrants, who were bused to New York City from Texas. Somewhere between 22,000 and 24,000 people were involuntarily relocated in this manner, estimated Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, who attended the event.
In the basement of St. Theresa’s,families moved steadily among tables of donated goods. Children played with newly-acquired toys as their parents checked the size of potentially warmer donated clothing items.
“Serving newcomers represents part of our core mission,” Monsignor Sullivan said. “It’s one of the values that the Church holds dear.
”Catholic Charities found itself at the center of the asylum seeker situation when many of those bused to New York were inappropriately given the address of the New York Catholic Center on First Avenue as a place to go to receive assistance. Over the past six months, the organization has provided aid by assessing need, and then in the form of food, information about housing and legal issues, and limited financial support.
Cardinal Dolan has been outspoken in his support for asylum seekers and immigrants. “Thank God, the Church is now recognized as one of the acclaimed agencies greeting the incoming people, now mostly from Latin America. Our own Catholic Charities has received national acclaim for its heroic work welcoming them,” he wrote in a recent column.
The number of new arrivals has decreased since mid-October, Sullivan said.However, no ability to work legally during an adjudication process that can last two years or longer, the migrants are forced to rely on day labor, public support,and private institutions for some or all of their basic requirements.
Although he also emphasized the continuing need for financial and material donations, Monsignor Sullivan requested that laypeople support the asylum seekers in a different way: “The laypeople should raise awareness about what the bishops have said about immigration policies and procedures, and raise their voices. This crisis is the result of a system that needs reform.”
“The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants, refugees, and people on the move. Our Church has responded to Christ’s call for us to ‘welcome the stranger among us,’for in this encounter with the immigrant, the migrant, and the refugee in our midst, we encounter Christ,” says a statement on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) website.
Following the distribution of food and goods, Cardinal Dolan, Monsignor Sullivan, and St. Theresa’s Pastor, Father Alexis Bastidas, celebrated Mass for the asylum seekers and other members of the church community.
Perched on the eastern edge of Chinatown, St. Theresa’s Church still celebrates Masses in Chinese, English, and Spanish. It has found a particular connection to new arrivals from Venezuela through Father Bastidas, a native of that country.