2020 Great Immigrants Recipient

Fabian Arias
Pastor, Iglesia de Sion, Saint Peter’s Church, New York City
Born in:

Fabian Arias was born in Argentina and received his training in the Catholic Church at the Santa María Seminary in Buenos Aires. He came to the United States in the 1990s for what was supposed to be a short trip, but after witnessing the adversities faced by New York City’s Latino immigrant community, he decided to pursue his religious calling in the U.S. Drawn to the Lutheran Church’s “more open approach to a modern lifestyle,” he was ordained in 2003. First in Harlem and now in midtown Manhattan, he serves as the long-time pastor of Iglesia de Sion, an overwhelmingly Latino congregation, which officially merged with Saint Peter’s Church earlier this year.

Skilled in traditional folk dance and an avid drinker of máte, Arias is known for his generosity of spirit and for serving those in need, including the city’s undocumented immigrants. In 2007, Hérmes, a gay teenager from Mexico whose eight-year-old brother was killed for being gay like him, asked Arias to become his legal guardian to help him stay in the United States. Since then, Arias has served as legal guardian to more than 40 undocumented young immigrants like Hérmes, helping them to regularize their status under a special visa for juveniles who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent. Saint Peter’s runs legal clinics for immigrants, and Arias is active in the sanctuary movement, the campaign to end family separations and the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

While Saint Peter’s has been closed since March because of COVID-19, this has been a busy and very trying time for Arias. The city’s Latino community has been especially hard hit by the pandemic. Arias’s congregation lost more than 40 parishioners, losses made more devastating by not being able to hold traditional funeral services. Many of his parishioners have also lost their jobs and struggle to make ends meet. Arias has been a driving force behind a food assistance program that delivers meals to needy New Yorkers. He broadcasts his biweekly Spanish mass on Facebook and provides funeral services at private residences to console those who have lost loved ones to the virus. “We say the last goodbye and pray together,” he explains. “It’s very important for us.”