Chicago priest blesses stuffed animals collected for unaccompanied minors in New York

The Most Rev. John Manz blesses the donated stuffed animals at the Cardinal Meyer Center, South Lake Park Ave. Chicago
The Most Rev. John Manz blesses the donated stuffed animals at the Cardinal Meyer Center, South Lake Park Ave. Chicago

By Rachel White

More than 1,300 stuffed animals collected by the Archdiocese of Chicago were en route to New York state Thursday to be donated to children from Central America now living in the United States.

The Most Rev. John R. Manz blessed the stuffed animals Wednesday at the Cardinal Meyer Center on South Lake Park Ave. They will be delivered to the unaccompanied children who are being sheltered at the Children’s Village in New York.

“It’s obviously a symbolic gesture that we’re doing today,” the Rev. Manz said before blessing the stuffed animals. “I think … these gifts will touch the lives of many children as a sign of affection.”

The children are among the estimated 50,000 unaccompanied minors who crossed the southern U.S. border illegally this year.

“The comfort these stuffed animals will provide will go a long way to make this difficult and sometimes frightening experience of integration more gentle and humane for so many,” said C. Mario Russell, director of Immigrant and Refugee Services for Catholic Charities of New York.

In addition to the stuffed animals, nearly 200 hand-written letters, penned by children at St. Rita of Cascia’s Religious Education program, will also be delivered to the children in New York.

“These messages and drawings express the hopes of the children at St. Rita for the happiness and well being of their brothers and sisters, the Central American unaccompanied children,” said the Rev. Timothy Gray, of Priests for Justice for Immigrants of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Catholic Charities’ Office for Immigrant Affairs had also organized a collection of $40,000 to support Catholic relief efforts on the border.

“We are working closely with Catholic Charities USA on this national humanitarian crisis,” said Kristine Kappel director of communications for the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Catholic Charities USA coordinates humanitarian relief efforts globally.

“If requested by CCUSA, we are prepared to send a team of specialists to Texas to assist in counseling and providing support to the affiliates in that region,” Kappel said.

Donated stuffed animals have already been delivered to unaccompanied Central American children being housed in Chicago. When the donations continued pouring in, the Archdiocesan Office for Immigrant Affairs, which operates Pastoral Migratoria, decided to share them with Catholic Charities of New York.

The Catholic Charities of New York has been working closely with 13 detention centers, housing significantly more Central American unaccompanied children than Chicago.

“Our legal and social services teams assist thousands of unaccompanied children in over a dozen shelters in the New York region each year, most of whom have fled from violence, poverty, and abuse,” Russell said.

More unaccompanied Central American children now living in the United States are set to call Chicago home soon. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this summer that Chicago would welcome up to 1,000 additional unaccompanied minors by the end of this calendar year.

“If the application to assist these children is approved, we will be ready to work with the Archdiocese and Maryville to provide shelter, counseling and safety to these children with the dignity, care and compassion that every person deserves,” Kappel said.

Catholic Charities of Chicago runs more than 150 programs located throughout Cook and Lake counties. The organization provides services like counseling and job training for those seeking assistance.

On Friday, Oct. 24, hundreds of Catholics and supporters from across Chicago will hold a 5 p.m. prayer vigil at Federal Plaza for unaccompanied children and immigration reform organized by the Office for Immigrant Affairs. Following the vigil, the Most Rev. Gustavo Garcia-Siller, Archbishop of San Antonio will preside at Mass at 6 p.m.