Boston Cardinal urges parishes to be ‘ready and willing to assist’ as migrant crisis escalates

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Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston issued a letter Tuesday calling on the Catholic community to help out as the state runs out of room for incoming migrants.

“I stress that this is a crisis but is only going to expand,” O’Malley wrote in a letter to pastors and the parishes of the Archdiocese. “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.

“In our time migrants and refugees are among the most vulnerable individuals and families in the United States,” he continued. “It is my hope and desire that as a church we respond generously and effectively.”

The cardinal’s letter comes a week after Gov. Maura Healey announced that the state would run out of room to shelter migrant families by the end of the month.

As of mid-October, the Healey administration said the state was sheltering over 7,000 migrant families. By the end of the month, they’ve stated the number is expected to hit 7,500.

Massachusetts is the only right-to-shelter state, meaning the government is required to provide emergency shelter to families with children, and a recent influx of migrant families into the state led Healey to declare a state of emergency this fall.

“I made an effort last week to be really clear with the public about the state of play,” Healey said of the migrant crisis Monday. “The fact of the matter is, we have reached our limit with capacity and the physical infrastructure to house people.”

Over the last few months, O’Malley said, Catholic Charities, St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children and the Archdiocesan Planning Office for Urban Affairs have worked closely with the administration to increase capacity to for housing and support services.

Healey also thanked the many people who “stepped forward and worked in partnership to house and care for families” Monday. With state leadership, she restated calls for federal aid — though, speakers noted, the U.S. House dysfunction has effectively blocked that possibility — and action, including faster work authorizations for the migrants.

Asked what will happen when the first family is turned away, state leaders said they are still developing a plan.

O’Malley asked church leaders to “review this letter with your parish staff and prepare your parishioners to be ready and willing to assist” as the crisis reaches the upcoming breaking point.

The letter laid out steps for parishes including getting a St. Vincent de Paul bin for donations and inviting donations of winter gear like coats and boots and basic necessities like diapers and toothbrushes.

As shelters fill to capacity and New England winter sets in, O’Malley said, the appropriate response for the Archdiocese may be the biblical sense of “welcoming the stranger” for short-term critical care and shelter. Those able and willing to host families were directed to contact Fr. Bryan Hehir’s office.

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