Cardinal O’Malley tells local business group the church’s mission is to help people in need

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 trashcan 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 this morning. “The Catholic Church has always been an immigrant church, welcoming people from throughout the world.”

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.

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“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.”

Last year, O’Malley said, Catholic charities in Boston served more than 200,000 people in need. Pope Francis, he said, has inspired many to embrace the social gospel of the church and service to the poor.

Catholic schools, he said, educate students in some of the most impoverished areas of the city, and produce test scores above average public and charter school scores.

“Education is the way out of poverty, and education is the key to assimilation of newly immigrant children,” he said.

After his address, O’Malley said he hoped to work with the city to address the spike in gang violence that has gripped Mattapan and Dorchester in recent weeks: four young people were killed in apparent gang-related shootings between Friday and Monday.

“We need to do more with the youths,” he said. “Part of it is family life, the whole area of weapons, what are we doing to get these guns off the streets, and dealing with the drug culture and all the damage that does.”

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, he said, has already reached out to some pastors and priests in affected neighborhoods.

“We’re anxious to work with the mayor and with other organizations in the city to make this a safer city,” said O’Malley.