Columbus Day Mass Links Today’s Migrants to Italian Immigrants


Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, in his homily during the 45th annual Columbus Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, alluded that today's migrants are coming to the United States with the same challenges, aspirations and dreams of Italian immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“The history of the great migration of Italians to the United States has much to offer us by way of the migrations we experience today right here in New York City,” the retired bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn said Oct. 10. “We see busloads coming every day, poor people who are escaping either poverty, sometimes persecution. Yes, they come with the same motivation that our ancestors came. They come to give a better life to their children.

“How important it is that we see them as new Americans,” he said. “It is so difficult for us to imagine that our ancestors had somewhat the same problems,” different but similar, he added.

The Mass honored two Italian saints, Giovanni Battista Scalabrini and Frances Xavier Cabrini. St. Scalabrini is known as the father of migrants, and St. Cabrini, an Italian-American immigrant, is the patron saint of immigrants.

Bishop DiMarzio, in his homily, recognized the work of both St. Scalabrini and St. Cabrini.

“We understood the genius of these two great heroes, how important they were to our history and so we understand today that we must give our help to those who come,” he said. “We should be the first as Italian-Americans to understand what is going on here, and that we need to welcome those who come.

“Yes we need a political change so the laws really favor those who need to come, but unfortunately we’re in gridlock right now, and let’s hope and pray that we can look to that day where we can establish the right kind of systems.

“We suffered for more than 50 years as Italian-Americans with an unjust immigration law and the law as we have it today is still not really just in order to help our country the way we need to be. So we must learn from our history. We must learn from these two great saints that we must give ourselves to them as migrants as we ourselves were welcomed in some ways. Sometimes we were not welcomed, but who cares, where we are today, we can welcome others.”

Cardinal Dolan, who served as principal celebrant, opened the bilingual Mass by welcoming everyone. In addition to Bishop DiMarzio, concelebrants included Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations; Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan; Auxiliary Bishops Edmund Whalen, John Bonnici and Joseph Espaillat; Retired Auxiliary Bishop John O’Hara; Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie and Auxiliary Bishop Richard Henning of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

Attending the Mass were Consul General of Italy in New York Fabrizio Di Michele; Tom Golisano, Columbus Day Parade grand marshal and founder of Paychex; and members of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, which organizes the annual Columbus Day Parade.

Cardinal Dolan also remembered the two Italian saints in his opening remarks.

“We also rejoice this morning, everybody, so appropriately in two Italian saints: Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, just canonized yesterday in St. Peter’s Square by Papa Francesco and our own Madre Francesca Cabrini, both of whom loved and labored so heroically for those Italian immigrants,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan asked Bishop DiMarzio to hold a relic of St. Cabrini for the final blessing of the Mass, which was followed by the singing of the national anthems for Italy and the United States.

After the liturgy, the 78th annual Columbus Day Parade stepped off along Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 72nd Street. 

The parade dates to 1929 when a group of Italian-Americans marched from East Harlem to Columbus Circle, and has featured grand marshals such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Sophia Loren and Lidia Bastianich.