A five-day training session in the Archdiocese of Chicago last week gathered leaders from across the country to learn about starting an immigrant-led service ministry in their dioceses.

The goal of the gathering, according to the archdiocesan website, was to “train diocesan, pastoral and lay leaders from across the United States on how to start this immigrant-led ministry for service, justice and accompaniment in parish communities to serve the needs of immigrants.”

Delegates from 11 dioceses attended the July 11-15 Instituto Pastoral Migratoria at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Created in 2007 by the Chicago archdiocesan Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity, Pastoral Migratoria seeks to respond to needs created by the lack of comprehensive immigration reform.

The parish-based ministry develops lay leaders who are able to identify and serve immigrants’ social and pastoral needs at a local level. In Chicago, more than 200 Hispanic lay leaders at 40 parishes are involved in the ministry.

The work they do is broad – from workers’ rights issues to financial literacy education to substance abuse awareness and prevention – “anything related to the immigrant community,” said Elena Segura, senior coordinator for immigration in the archdiocese.

“These are leaders who work in cooperation with professional organizations, who come to the parishes and provide the information and critical resources for people to learn and also to become positive members of society, to be integrated in this country,” she said.

Segura stressed that the program empowers immigrants to be leaders in their own parishes, “actors of their own development,” responding to the needs around them and transforming their communities.

“Immigrants have gifts and…they are people who are responding to their baptismal call to engage in bringing the resources needed in their parish communities,” she told CNA.

Often times, the immigrant leaders who are working to serve and accompany their brothers and sisters have themselves experienced a need for accompaniment in making the transition to life in the United States.

“It’s a journey of empowerment, it’s a journey of hope, it’s journey of compassion,” Segura said.

The July 11-15 training session is part of an effort to expand Pastoral Migratoria across the country. In the last year, the Dioceses of Kansas City–Saint Joseph and Stockton launched the program, and organizers hope to begin in three additional dioceses within the coming year.

“The ministry’s goal is to create a nationwide network of Catholic parish-based immigration ministries,” the Archdiocese of Chicago said in a press release.

Participants in the training session received formation and resources rooted in Catholic social teaching to help them implement Pastoral Migratoria in their home dioceses and form collaborative relationships with community partners. They visited Chicago parishes where this ministry is in place, and took part in a prayer vigil at a detention center. All sessions were conducted in Spanish.

Among the dioceses represented at the event were Atlanta, Des Moines, Kansas City–Saint Joseph, Little Rock, Los Angeles, New York, San Bernardino, St. Louis, and Stockton.