In letter, Cardinal urges parishes to help address migrant crisis

BRAINTREE -- Priests and parishioners must be "ready and willing to assist" the historic influx of migrants entering Massachusetts, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley wrote in a letter addressed to parishes on Oct. 23.

In his letter, Cardinal O'Malley wrote that "the archdiocese as a whole" may need to provide "short-term critical care and shelter in the biblical sense of 'welcoming the stranger'" so that migrant families don't go homeless in the winter.

Seven thousand migrant families, mostly Haitians fleeing violence and poverty, have overwhelmed Massachusetts's shelter system in the past year. On Oct. 16, Gov. Maura Healey said that state shelters, including those run by the Archdiocese of Boston, only have enough room for 7,500 families -- a limit that will likely be reached by the end of the month.

Cardinal O'Malley asked parishes to offer their own buildings as shelter space if they could.

"The challenge is a local one in the sense that only some of the neighborhoods and parish communities will deal with shelters in their areas," he wrote. "However, the challenge is for all of us as an archdiocese."

Furthermore, Cardinal O'Malley asked parishes to organize donation drives for winter clothes, boots, diapers, and toiletries. Haiti is a tropical country, and most of the migrants do not have any warm clothing. The clothes and toiletries will be accepted until Nov. 18, then collected and distributed by the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

He added that Catholic Charities Boston, St. Mary's Center for Women, and the Archdiocesan Planning Office for Urban Affairs have "worked closely" with Gov. Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll to address the crisis.

Individual parishes have also provided shelter and other resources to migrants.

"The archdiocese has offered assistance to these parishes," Cardinal O'Malley wrote, "and we will continue to offer help to any parishes and communities we are not yet aware of needing assistance."

Cardinal O'Malley ended his letter by writing that the migrant crisis "is only going to expand."

"I offer this invitation in the spirit of Pope Francis, who has asked us as Catholics to watch the 'peripheries' of society where suffering is located," he wrote. "In our time, migrants and refugees are among the most vulnerable individuals in the United States. It is my hope and desire that as a church we respond generously and effectively."