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Cardinal O’Malley advocates for the poor

When Cardinal Sean O’Malley first arrived in Washington, D.C., to work with immigrants years ago, a man from El Salvador came weeping to see him in his office. The man, a dishwasher, walked to work and ate food from dirty plates to save money, and had been mailing cash to his wife for six months — only to find out he had mistaken a fancy trash can for a mailbox, and she had received none of it.

“That encounter certainly brought home to me how difficult it is to be an immigrant, to be a stranger in a strange land, to experience countless humiliations and deprivations as one struggles to make enough money to feed one’s children,” said O’Malley, speaking to more than 130 businesspeople at The New England Council at the Hampshire House in Boston Wednesday morning. “The Catholic Church has always been an immigrant church, welcoming people from throughout the world.”

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In his half-hour address, O’Malley described the church as a vital friend to those in need — immigrants, the poor, the lonely — and spoke of the church’s mission as one of charity, education, and face-to-face ministry.

“Our efforts are not an exercise in ‘rice bowl Christianity,’ ” he said, referring to the practice of converting people to Christianity by offering them food. “We do not serve people to entice them to become Catholics. We serve them because we are Catholics.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.
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