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Ann Kendrick

Apopka, FL

A small team of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur has been working with the working poor people of Central Florida especially the immigrant and farmworker community. Our mission is to be a service learning community dedicated to the empowerment of Central Florida’s working poor community through education, advocacy and spiritual growth. While together with the community we have organized and responded to both the possibilities and the needs of the community in some amazingly grace-filled ways, the truth is that in so many ways the situation of these hardworking noble people is worse than it was almost a half a century ago. Yet the people are resilient and full of faith.

So often the gathering around Church simply does not deal with the real suffering of the people. The unjust systems, policies and structural relationships are seldom if ever mentioned….and then comes a breath of fresh air grounded in a real relationship with real people in real situations that cry out for witness, understanding, and healing. This new wind of grace calls as well for a push back, challenge and change in a culture with political, economic, and social values and structures which dehumanize people, take away their means of survival and turn them into a consumer machine while destroying the planet, Mother Earth. Certainly that cannot be God’s will. This new wind of the Spirit which is penetrating all of us has the voice of Pope Francis. People are curious, people are interested, people are listening and those of us who have been working in the trenches with the folks for whom so much of our society is not working feel relieved, seen, valued and recognized for the deeper meaning of our work of our presence. We are so much more than social workers, community organizers, agitators. We have experienced a call from God that the Gospel is imbedded in the historical reality of the times. Context and community relationships are everything. It is how we find God, how we find ourselves and become most fully the person God called us to be.

So, Gracias, Pope Francis!! Gracias for your leadership and courage to speak out in a clear way challenging our North American culture and society to the personal and social transformation so desperately needed for our time.

One of the things that we do at the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka to bridge the gap and heal the divide among us is our Service Learning Immersion Program. Students and others come to our community, live with immigrant, undocumented families and go to work in the fields. The families are the teachers telling: about their immigrant story, the push/pull factors leading to their desperate decision to leave their country, and their struggles here with racism, discrimination, poverty, language, education, violence and violation of human rights, as well as their hopes and dreams.  These experiences bring together people who would never normally be in the same room as they learn from each other and craft strategies to make a difference by creating diverse communities dedicated to social justice and structural transformation. This slow process changes lives, gives support and energy to potential allies and creates real community. The students go home as serve as allies of this community of undocumented immigrants telling their story and working for change.

In fact all of the work of the Hope CommUnity Center is about creating service learning communities where all are both learner and teacher and community is the goal not just the newest technique.

So Pope Francis, we are grateful to you for your frank and honest leadership, your compassionate heart and for “Being” the change we are seeking by your own life. You inspire us and give us more courage to keep up our very good work with the people at the margins. You challenge us with love to be better people, to seek to understand where others are coming from and to never give up on our belief in God’s dream of a new creation.