CHICAGO — Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Robert G. Casey in a Nov. 13 homily reflected on St. Frances Xavier Cabrini’s courage to carry out God’s will for her on earth, which often saw her crossing the Atlantic Ocean despite a fear of water.
“As we celebrate this day today, it’s a moment for us to consider, do we have that same courage? Do we have the courage to put aside our fears and get on the boat?” he asked. “Can we face our fears with deep faith and allow ourselves both to be blessed and to serve as a blessing to others?”
Casey, archdiocesan vicar general, was the main celebrant at a Mass at the National Shrine to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini that began a jubilee year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the canonization of Mother Cabrini, as she is known by many.
The bishop also officially blessed and opened the shrine’s holy door before Mass began.
In his homily, Casey also reflected on Mother Cabrini’s ministry to immigrants at the turn of the century. In fact, she came to the United States to minister to the growing number of immigrants from her native Italy and across Europe.
“In every corner of the world and throughout all of history, God’s people have been challenged to get on the boat, to have courage, to keep the faith and to move forward with hope amid the struggles,” he said.
“St. Frances Xavier Cabrini teaches us by her example,” he continued. “She said, ‘I have started houses with no more than the price of a loaf of bread and prayers, for with him who comforts me I can do anything. With God all things are possible.’”
With God in our midst, we can stay calm and afloat during the storms of life, the bishop said.
“Knowing that God is with us and around us, my hope for this Eucharist today is that we can pray together to have the courage as God’s people to get on the boat, to face our fears with deep faith and to allow ourselves, like Frances Cabrini, to be people blessed by God as well as serving as a blessing through others,” he said.
Sister Bridget Zanin, executive director of the shrine, is a member of the religious order Mother Cabrini founded in 1880, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Following the Mass, she told the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper: “I’m in awe. I thought it was a beautiful celebration. I could feel the people’s faith and their feelings of happiness in being here.”
“Sometimes we say the heart can see what the mind cannot express and I think that’s what probably everybody here felt in their heart today,” she said. “I think Mother Cabrini really touched the people’s hearts.”
Zanin, the other Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the shrine staff are looking forward to this jubilee year.
“We’re expecting many people to come on pilgrimage. We are here, not only with arms open and doors open but with hearts open for people to come. Mother Cabrini always said, ‘There is room for everyone here.’ How right she was. We are trying to carry that legacy out,” Zanin said. “When she was alive, Mother Cabrini worked hard. She never had anything big or a celebration for her, so I think today she deserves all of this.”
During the jubilee year, people can make pilgrimages to the shrine, pass through the holy door and fulfill the three conditions of receiving the Eucharist, going to confession and praying for the intentions of the pope to receive a plenary indulgence, which is the remission of temporal punishment due to sin.
Those who cannot physically make a pilgrimage to the shrine can receive a plenary indulgence “having expressed the resolution to detach themselves from all sin and the intention to fulfill, as soon as possible, the three customary conditions, if they are spiritually united to the celebrations or pilgrimages, by offering their prayers, suffering or the hardships of their lives to the mercy of God by the hand of Mary,” according to the official proclamation of the jubilee year.
The Chicago shrine is the only national shrine honoring Mother Cabrini, who became the first American citizen to be canonized.
“We were looking for an opportunity to restore a sense of gratitude toward Mother Cabrini and the Missionary Sisters,” said Father Ramil Fajardo, the shrine’s rector.
Holy Name Cathedral also will have a holy door for the jubilee year as a site where Mother Cabrini would have visited and worshipped, he said.
A donor has commissioned a statue of Mother Cabrini that will be installed in the cathedral courtyard in October 2022.
At the time of her canonization, the Catholic faith was seeing a revival in the United States and the enthusiasm around the moment was especially strong in Chicago, where more than 100,000 Catholics filled Soldier Field for a Triduum of Masses and a Holy Hour.
“It’s amazing when you look at how this was such a sense of pride and also a sense of accomplishment,” Fajardo said. “So I thought, well, we should do something for Mother. Not just for the purpose of remembering but also anchoring mission.
“Taking the reality of 2021 and making it a starting point for actually putting into practice … whatever Mother Cabrini was talking about.”
That means, for example, care for immigrants “in Christ,” hospital care “in Christ,” the priest said, stressing “in Christ.”
“We can’t just do stuff. It has to be anchored and undergirded by our Lord. Faith is always very important,” he said. “So the whole idea for the jubilee year is to reflect, for some months, on the gift of Mother Cabrini and to conclude the year with some firm resolutions (for the shrine’s ministry).”
Mother Cabrini died in Chicago Dec. 22, 1917. She had founded 67 institutions around the world, including several in Chicago, by the time of her death.
People often asked her where she got her money to found institutions, and she replied, “We spend millions but haven’t a cent. We draw from the Bank of Providence. Its funds are inexhaustible.”
Pope Pius XI beatified Mother Cabrini in 1938 and Pope Pius XII canonized her in 1946.
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Editor’s Note: For information about the jubilee year, visit cabrininationalshrine.org.
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Duriga is editor of Chicago Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.