NEW YORK – Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston is encouraging parish communities across the archdiocese to help respond to the area’s migrant influx, calling it “a major humanitarian and societal crisis that is building in the State of Massachusetts and within our Archdiocese.”

“I write to you today to speak about a major humanitarian and societal crisis that is building in the State of Massachusetts and within our Archdiocese,” O’Malley wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to pastors.

“Please take the time to review this letter with your parish staff and prepare your parishioners to be ready and willing to assist,” O’Malley said. “The challenge is the fact of immigrants arriving daily in Massachusetts, and in need of basic shelter and compassionate care and welcome.”

The letter follows an announcement from Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey earlier this month that come Nov. 1 the state will no longer be able to add additional units to its emergency shelter system for families experiencing homelessness, including migrants. Healey previously declared a state of emergency in August due to the number of migrant families arriving in need of shelter and services.

According to the announcement, the state has nearly 7,000 families in emergency shelters, including newly arrived migrant families and longtime Massachusetts residents. By the end of the month, state officials expect to reach its shelter capacity of 7,500 families, or approximately 24,000 individuals.

The Massachusetts situation is not isolated. Major cities around the country – Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., and others – are struggling to handle an influx of migrants from the southern border, who have come to the United States in record numbers in recent years.

Earlier this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released its southwest land border encounter statistics for September, where border authorities encountered a record 269,735 migrants.

The September figures also conclude the total number of encounters for Fiscal Year 2023 (October 2022-September 2023), where border authorities encountered a record 2,475,669 migrants – almost 100,000 more than last year’s record-setting total of 2,378,944.

Massachusetts is a destination of choice for many Haitian migrants, as the state has the third largest Haitian diaspora in the country, many of whom live in the Greater Boston area.

O’Malley’s letter cites the work of the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities, the St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, and some parishes, to address the crisis in conjunction with state leaders. However, citing a crisis that is “sure to become much larger,” O’Malley is asking parishes to step up, especially as the New England winter weather sets in.

The cardinal announced that the archdiocese has partnered with the Saint Vincent de Paul Society to help plan for the cold weather. The Saint Vincent de Paul society is a worldwide organization of lay Catholics who strive to help those in need in their local communities.

“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; however, the challenge is for all of us as an Archdiocese,” O’Malley said.

“The Saint Vincent de Paul Society has the appropriate storage and ability to collect and distribute items directly to those in need,” he wrote. “Therefore, my request is that you work with them in your parishes/collaboratives for a drive this November prior to the cold weather.”

In the letter, O’Malley asks parishes to consider adding a St. Vincent de Paul bin if they don’t have one, donating winter clothing and other essential items. He also asked that parishes or parishioners with any short term shelter space offer it “in the biblical sense of ‘welcoming the stranger’ for if/when shelters are filled to capacity and weather conditions require immediate assistance for families.

“I stress that this is a crisis [which is] only going to expand,” O’Malley said.

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

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