Address by Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn

Delivered at the SIMN VI International Forum on Migration and Peace
Rome, Italy | February 20-22, 2017

Credit: Paolo Fusco S4C

Address by Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn


Allow me to thank you for inviting me to speak at the Sixth International Forum on Migration and Peace. Unfortunately, an upper respiratory infection prevents me from air travel at this time. I extend my sincere thanks for your allowing me to have someone read this in my absence. It is, indeed, my honor to be invited along with leaders from around the world to join together to listen to each other’s perspectives on this most important issue of migrants and refugees, who, as was described in my letter of invitation to this forum as those who “desperately strive to save their own lives or build a better and safer future for them and their families in a country other than where they were born, has become one of the main concerns of the global agenda.”

As part of this distinguished panel on the topic of “Mapping the Migration Activities of Catholic Organizations” and more specifically on “National Engagement”, I present the following to you from the perspective of the Diocese of Brooklyn, in New York.


The Diocese of Brooklyn was established on July 29, 1853. The diocese is comprised of two of the five boroughs of the City of New York: namely, Brooklyn and Queens. Only 179 square miles, the Diocese of Brooklyn is the only all urban diocese in the United States, and the smallest diocese in terms of geography. Though the Diocese of Brooklyn is the smallest geographical diocese in the United States with regards to territory, it is one the largest with regards to the size of the total population and with regards to the Catholic population.

The boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens have a population of 4,943,373, of which 1.8 million identify themselves as Catholics. Due to its multicultural and diverse population, Masses are regularly celebrated in 29 different languages across the diocese, through 186 parishes with 211 churches. There are many parishes where Mass is celebrated regularly in three or four different languages.

In the Diocese of Brooklyn, there are 86 Catholic elementary schools and academies that educate 30,000 students, making it the seventh largest Catholic school system in the United States. Last year, the Diocese celebrated 16,542 Baptisms, 12,125 First Communions, 9,351 Confirmations and 2,267 Marriages.

The Diocese of Brooklyn has the largest Catholic Charities in the United States, providing over 160 programs and services for children and youth, adults and seniors, the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, the hungry and homeless. They are the largest faithbased provider of affordable housing in the country, with 4,700 units for the elderly, homeless, disabled and low-income families.

The Diocese of Brooklyn has been a steadfast advocate for services to the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees who live with us, some undocumented, but, nevertheless, are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Catholic Migration Services, founded in 1971 by the future Cardinal Anthony Bevilaqua, was the first agency in the United States established for migrants.


In 1971, as a response to the Papal Instruction “Pastoralis Migratorum Cura”, written by His Holiness Pope Paul VI in 1969, the Diocese of Brooklyn established Catholic Migration Services to serve the needs of immigrants and refugees living within the canonical boundaries of the diocese. Catholic Migration Services was the first Diocesan agency established in the United States to deal exclusively with the needs of immigrants and refugees. For over 45 years, the agency has provided a holistic approach to both the legal and pastoral needs of immigrants and refugees.

The Diocese of Brooklyn is frequently referred to as the “Diocese of Immigrants”. The diocese, located in New York City and in the shadow of the Statute of Liberty, is one of the most diverse dioceses in the world. Between 2010 and 2011, the city population grew as a result of 60,000 foreign born immigrants moving to New York.

In 1972, the diocese established the first ethnic apostolates. The ethnic apostolates provide an opportunity for immigrants to preserve their rich heritage and traditions in Brooklyn and Queens. The ethnic apostolates allow immigrants to come together so that they do not feel alone. The ethnic apostolates are designed to assist immigrants to belong to the larger community, while at the same time providing an opportunity for their uniqueness to be preserved and shared.

Each ethnic apostolate has a committee whose goals are to act as a channel of communication with the immigrants and the various agencies of the Diocese, and to ensure that the immigrants are able to make use of the many services that are available to them. The ethnic apostolates assist in preserving and teaching the rich cultural and linguistic heritage of the various immigrant communities in Brooklyn and Queens. They work to promote cultural events that are important to their community. The ethnic apostolates are designed to be a source of welcome and support for immigrants.

The spiritual well being of the immigrant community is the principal goal of the ethnic apostolates and Catholic Migration Services. The ethnic apostolates strive to help immigrant communities by developing a spirit of belonging. Today, there are 31 Ethnic Apostolates (Ethnic Ministries) serving Catholics who are: Arabic Speaking, African American, Brazilian, ChineseCantonese, Chinese Mandarin, Colombian, Croatian, Czech, Dominican, Ecuadorian, French, Filipino, Garifuna, Ghanaian, Guatemalan, Haitian, Indian Latin-Rite, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Korean, Lithuanian, Mexican, Nigerian, Pakistani, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, and West Indian.

Recently, the ethnic apostolates, and in particular the priest coordinators, were tasked with helping international priests better adjust to their ministry in the United States. It is the wish of the Bishop of Brooklyn that all international priests who minister in the Diocese of Brooklyn be made to feel welcome and feel comfortable and well equipped to begin their work while they are here in the parishes of Brooklyn and Queens. It is a concrete reflection of our belief in the fraternity and universality of the Catholic priesthood and the hospitality we wish to offer to all newcomers.

The apostolate coordinators or their approved appointees serve as “mentors” to the newly arrived international priests at the very beginning of their time in the Diocese. This plan includes four parts: Welcome, Hospitality, Orientation and Evaluation. It is hoped that this initial phase of mentoring will last for a two-week period and will be followed up periodically during the entire time the international priest serves in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The Immigration Legal Services Program of the Diocese of Brooklyn, created in 1971 with the founding of Catholic Migration Services, has become a trustworthy and high quality resource for the diverse and densely populated boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. We have also played a notable role in responding to historic moments in U.S. immigration reform and policy, such as the legalization program of the early 1980’s. In 1986, an Act of Congress created the National Amnesty Program. Catholic Migration played a major role by developing the Diocesan Legalization Program involving more than 1,000 trained volunteers. As a result of the efforts of Catholic Migration, nearly 20,000 people from 28 countries are aided in applying for legal, temporary residence.

Currently, Catholic Migration Services provides legal assistance and representation in a wide range of affirmative applications for immigration relief, including, but not limited, to: citizenship, family reunification, political asylum, assisting trafficking victim and those seeking temporary protected status. Catholic Migration aims to ensure that all people facing deportation are treated with dignity and respect and are provided with competent legal counsel. Catholic Migration also works closely with CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.) in assisting people in need. In 1988, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) established CLINIC as a legally distinct 501(c)(3) organization to support a rapidly growing network of community-based immigration programs. CLINIC’s network originally comprised 17 programs. It has since increased to more than 260 diocesan and other affiliated immigration programs with 400 offices in 47 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. The network employs roughly 1,200 BIA accredited representatives and attorneys who, in turn, serve hundreds of thousands of low-income immigrants each year. CLINIC and its affiliate agencies represent low-income immigrants without reference to their race, religion, gender, ethnic group, or other distinguishing characteristics. As you can see, Catholic Migration Services of the Diocese of Brooklyn is committed to protecting the rights of those seeking to remain in the United States and advocate tirelessly on our clients’ behalf.

In 2005, Catholic Migration expanded its legal service program to improve the living conditions of low-income, immigrant tenants. Catholic Migration Services has helped thousands of immigrant families’ fight for dignified and affordable housing. Immigrants have been forced to live in substandard housing and have been taken advantage of often. The dedicated staff of Catholic Migration Services strives to afford all immigrants a safe place to call home.

Lastly, in 2009, Catholic Migration Services developed an Immigrant Workers’ Rights Program. This program represents workers in disputes over wage, unsafe working conditions, and other workplace abuses commonly suffered by immigrants in New York City. In collaboration with the United States and New York State Departments of Labor, the New York City Office of the Comptrollers and the consulates of several Latin American nations (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras), Catholic Migration Services operates LÍNEA LABORAL, a bilingual (English/Español) call center for workers to learn about their labor rights and report abuses.


The parishes of the Diocese of Brooklyn have experienced every form of methodology for ministering to our ever-changing populations and parish demographics. We began with national parishes and then moved to parallel parishes. Later still, we developed shared parishes and are now looking towards communion.

Along this path, we discovered many things about the Universal Church, the Diocese of Brooklyn, and ourselves. We learned languages, began to explore the impact of culture, witnessed a huge growth in devotions and other forms of popular religiosity and their importance to parish life, and had the opportunity to share our ministry with priests who themselves came to us as immigrants in order to work alongside us. These have been, and still remain, keys to establishing a spirit of communion in our Diocese.

There still exists in our parishes a sense of loss and insecurity among some long-term parishioners who feel that the parish they built no longer belongs to them.

“The Church is the sign of communion because her members, like branches, share the life of Christ, the true vine. Through communion with Christ, Head of the Mystical Body, we enter into living communion with all believers. This communion, present in the Church and essential to her nature, must be made visible in concrete signs.” (John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, no. 33).

The experience of communion is achieved when people feel a true sense of welcome, belonging and ownership. Attitudes and activities promote these stepping stones to communion. It is necessary to underscore the importance of choosing pastors whose spiritual self understanding is missionary; who have the ability to open doors and build bridges; and who understand their role to create unity in diversity and become a symbol of it themselves. This is not only a matter of achieving a linguistic competency, but also a Christ-like presence. Pastors must see our multi-ethnic parishes not as logistical problems to be solved, but rather as a theological reality. This theology has as its source in our understanding of the dignity of the human person and in an understanding of the Church as truly Catholic. (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte).


A missionary character, which is obvious in a pastor, will be a strong force in moving people from ecclesial integration to communion. He must engage in pastoral planning with the people, and not merely on behalf of the people. Father Robert Schreiter CPPS, a well-known author on these matters, summarizes the task of a pastor by stating that he needs to create a feeling of welcome, belonging, and ownership. Welcome leads to a sense of belonging, which in turn puts people on the road to ownership. Where these factors are lacking the parish unwittingly exposes its parishioners to proselytism by other groups. When people can find in a parish the experience of personally encountering Christ, then the parish belongs to them forever. This encounter depends on effective preaching, well-planned multi-cultural liturgies and celebrations, and respect for the cultural expressions of faith which the immigrants bring with them. In order to do this effectively, we must learn to celebrate and create culturally specific ministries that affirm the values and traditions of immigrants, even if some adaptations need to be made to the American cultural situation. An example of this would be the Quinceanera celebrations, which is the 15th birthday celebration for young girls in Latin-American countries.


There must be an effort to avoid making immigrants feel as if they were guests who are expected to leave at a designated time. The “welcome” must be visible and complete. Their saints and Madonnas should be present in the church, as well as their flags and other symbols of ethnic identity. For example, at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn there are murals of 22 national Marian images, representing most of the ethnic diversity of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Moreover, their languages should be appropriately utilized in the weekly bulletins, and their leaders should be invited onto the parish council and other consultative groups.

While respecting the differences in each group, we must avoid creating parallel parishes rather than an integrated parish family. If people of different cultures are not included in activities or if their worship is relegated to odd hours when no one else is around, the message is being sent out that these persons are invisible.

Pastoral institutes and adult education programs must teach about the pastoral care of newcomers, not just refer to it as a side point or one among many other pastoral challenges. Intercultural communication is not only about developing an interest in the customs of other peoples; it is the fruit of ongoing conversion to the Lord and of solidarity with one’s neighbor. When a peoples’ culture is destroyed, their sense of self-worth disintegrates.

Our Catholic high schools, seminaries and Catholic institutions of higher education should include intercultural communication studies in their curricula. Communion is not just for the internal life of the Church, but for the whole life of our Catholic people as they interface with external groups and individuals. 

Generational differences must be added to our cultural mix. The second and third generations often reject the language and culture of their parents, and sometimes do not feel at home in either the world of their elders nor in that of their contemporaries. Also, for the first generation religious activity often intensifies, relative to what it had been in the country of origin. The reason for this is that a strong identity helps to preserve one’s place within a cultural community. Religious customs and rituals, while typically lasting longer than the use of the particular language, help to build bridges between generations and within local communities.


  1. Is my parish a welcoming parish? How does my parish make ME feel welcome?
  2. In what ways can we communicate without using a foreign language?
  3. When international priests come to serve our parish, do we make them feel truly welcome?
  4. Since immigrant youth are generally bilingual, do we ask them for more leadership and assistance? Do we foster vocations?
  5. Do we share our challenges and/or ethnic resources with the parishes of our deanery?
  6. Do we use the resources that the Diocese provides: Apostolates/Ethnic Ministries, Migration Office, Movements?
  7. Should detailed ethnic profiles be presented when offering pastorates or transfers to priests along with financial and administrative challenges?

People need to see that we believe that the local Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and every part is vital to the body.


  • Create a “check list” on the pastoral care of newcomers for new pastors to use
  • Parishes should create a parish “Welcome Kit” which could be distributed to newcomers. This would give all the basic parish information, contacts, opportunities, groups, and faith formation information for their children. This would be much more than the Sunday bulletin and would be in the language of the newly arrived.
  • The Diocese could invest in the ethnic ministries/apostolates by training leadership from these groups to offer faith formation in their or other parishes.
  • Request some “quality control” or accountability markers for a parish’s ministry to newcomers.
  • It might be useful to schedule a monthly meeting for all newcomers to the parish, and not just those who come from other countries.
  • A renewed parish council, once it has attained a truly multi-ethnic and multicultural character, should be formally introduced to the parish.
  • The parish should be seen as a place where the social needs and concerns of immigrants can be safely aired and addressed.
  • Older or long term parishioners should have an opportunity to discuss the changes in the parish and neighborhood with the pastor.
  • High school teens and young adults should be encouraged to befriend and mentor their immigrant counterparts.
  • Parish deacons should take on some responsibility for the welcome of immigrants in a parish. Language learning should be attempted, if needed.
  • The faithful are not “Father’s helpers”; rather their baptismal vocation makes them partially responsible for the mission of the Church.
Author Names

Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D.

Date of Publication February 10, 2017