On Sunday, December 18 , 2016 Sr. Karen was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by Walsh University, and asked to give this address to the commencement class.
“Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the homeless, the tempest tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Please imagine for a moment all of our Hispanic brothers and sisters huddled here around me. I say that because this medal really belongs to them. They are the heroes. They are the ones who have walked the long journeys to get away from war-ravaged situations, extreme poverty, or gang activities, searching for a better life. They are the ones who have made the difficult decisions to leave loved ones. They are the ones who stand with courage and faith even in circumstances of prejudice and ridicule—yearning to breathe free. So—this is their medal! I accept it in their honor—to bring attention to them, praising them for sharing their rich culture with us, celebrating those who have attained permanent residency or citizenship, thanking them for teaching us about what it means to have deep faith and confidence in God, no matter what challenges they face.
How can I not quote Pope Francis here? About immigrants, he says: “they only want for their children what we want for ours…… “We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, see their faces, listen to their stories.”
Juan just received a deportation order. He has a wife and 2 little boys to love and care for. He is faced with a serious decision: hide in the shadows in order to stay here, leave his family behind, or take his children with him and end their educational possibilities.
Rosa was brought here at age 8. With no parents to care for her, she lived with grandparents. She worked hard in school since her dream was to become a bilingual registered nurse. But she couldn’t go on to college without being legally adopted by her grandparents. After a long, difficult, and very expensive process she was finally able to get her green card. She is studying nursing now and plans to become a citizen. Rosa has faced many difficulties, but at the tender age of 22, she is very strong and won’t give up.
In 2001, Fr. Tom Bishop opened his arms and his heart to the Hispanic community by welcoming them into his parish community. He began this ministry with the help of a grant from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton and we are blessed to be receiving their continued support through the years. When I came to St. Anthony’s in 2005, one of the ladies in the Hispanic Community asked me: “Do you have room in your heart for us?” Since that day, I have played with their babies and taught their children; I eat at their tables and listen to their stories; I laugh with them, I cry with them. Yes, they have made their way into my heart…no questions asked.
I leave you with this same challenge: make room in your heart for our Hispanic brothers and sisters, get to know them, offer a welcoming smile, listen to their stories, pray for them in these uncertain times. And, of course, as with any ministry dedicated to helping the poor and underserved, we depend on financial support from generous donors. Hopefully each one of us, in our own way, can lift a lamp of welcome at the golden door of our hearts.