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A revolution of the heart – Edu.Pulsing

The following is a guest publication by María del Pilar Desangles, deputy director of the Community Service Center and Justice at Loyola University Maryland.

Desangles has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Central Florida and M.S.Ed. in Community and Social Change at the University of Miami. She is an active member of St. Matthews Catholic Church and LEAD Ministry (LGBT Educating & Affirming Diversity). Desangles joined the pastoral council of San Mateo in 2015. Previously, she worked with a community of immigrant farm workers in Central Florida, where she was the director of Service Learning at the Hope CommUnity Center. Desangles lives in Baltimore City with his wife Adrienne Andrews and his puppy Luna.

"The biggest challenge of the day is: how to provoke a revolution of the heart, a revolution that has to start with each one of us?" – Dorothy Day

When I was 21 years old, I began one year of service through the Volunteers of the Notre Dame Mission (NDMV). I did not intend to do a year of service through a religious organization, and I was very nervous about what that meant. Like many twenty-somethings, I identified myself as something spiritual, but not religious. At that time, most had been exposed to the strict expectations of the Catholic Church and the shame that arose from not meeting those expectations.

After doing some research, I learned that NDMV was founded by Catholic sisters. I was impressed with his work and his language, but I was skeptical of what it meant to work within what I perceived as a rather monolithic institution.

I started my position at the Hope CommUnity Center, formerly known as the Office for the Ministry of Agricultural Workers, an organization dedicated to serving immigrant and working poor communities in Central Florida through education, advocacy and spiritual growth. The fear of rigidity dissipated quickly when one of the sisters, who later became my mentor and one of my best friends, hugged me warmly when she first met with me. Immediately, I began to feel the radical love and acceptance that I had always heard in homilies, but that I had rarely felt in practice outside of my family.

I quickly realized that hugs and connection were a central part of the culture at HCC. I confess that I did not realize immediately how essential, revolutionary and important it was for the work we were doing, and for the community that I was getting to know (and that they knew me!). I knew that the long days of tutoring and mentoring of the youth, in admiration of the adult students who arrived at the end of a 12-14-hour workday in the field to learn English as a second language, always began and ended with hugs, laughter and kinship.

About three months after the start of my service, the same sister, Sister Ann Kendrick SNDdeN, invited me to church. Initially, she asked me to help her distribute leaflets after the Mass for the Agricultural Credit Cooperative, where I served part of the time, but I made sure to add an invitation "without pressure, but it would be nice" to go to Mass (Spanish for the mass) with her in advance.

At this point, I was anxiously following Sister Ann, or "Mr. Annita" as many called her, hoping to absorb what I perceived as her magical powers of community organization. But I also followed it because I had the strange power to give back to myself. The more I was with her and with other people who could really receive me, the more I could receive the others. We need a community to restore ourselves. With enthusiasm, but nervously I accepted the invitation to Mass . It had been a long time since I left.

It turned out to be December 12 and was the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe . That night, it sparked a revolution in my heart and I felt at home in my new predominantly Mexican and Central American community for the first time. The Mass with the traditional Mexicans matachines dancers, and pure worship by Our Lady of Guadalupe was like no other Mass I had experienced before , and at the same time as every Mass that had been before.

I had forgotten how much I loved the ritual and culture of a Catholic Mass, and as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, how much I needed to be reminded of its importance to me and my identity. I felt the mutual embrace and acceptance of my new community that night and a deep commitment to my work. I experienced solidarity for the first time.

As a documented immigrant, I was able to better identify and articulate my privileges by sharing my stories with others and helping to contextualize our country's immigration system. My new community taught me to appear with my whole being. I will never forget it, a couple of years later, when I worked as a full-time employee at HCC, waiting for bail to post around 2 a. M. After one of our mothers with very young children got into a car accident, and the agent took her into custody, because she could not prove that she had any documents. Thank God she was released early that morning, and we were able to reunite her with her children.

My new community taught me about faith. But a faith that is not afraid, and perseveres. All I could do then, and all that I hope to continue doing for the rest of my life, is to keep appearing with my whole being and receiving others. Mass that night and the experiences of kinship that followed changed me forever.

What I found through my precious time with these Catholic Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur is the incredible power that exists when kinship is combined with institutions. Through his example, I learned that when people within an institution can reciprocate by race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc., the heart revolution is unleashed as Dorothy Day mentioned, and brings us closer to greater fair and equitable world.

It seems to me that here in Baltimore I am still looking for this through my work at the Community Service and Justice Center at Loyola University Maryland. I believe that universities, especially those based on faith, like Loyola, are especially committed and invested in communities to work for a more just and equitable world. As Mother Teresa said, "if we do not have peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another." I have been working in a Catholic and faith-based context for almost a decade, and every day I am very grateful for the opportunity to go to work and the community with all my self and to receive others.

The city of Baltimore is part of a national conversation on issues of justice, race and community. At this crucial moment in the history of our city, including the history of our nation, the Institute of Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies highlights the continuing importance of bringing diverse religious perspectives to address civic and social challenges . In the initiative Imagining Justice in Baltimore the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians and Muslims to the public conversation about justice and injustice in Baltimore. Each collaborator represents their own opinion. We welcome this diversity of perspectives and do not seek a single definition of justice between traditions, nor deny the multivocal nature of justice within traditions. The long-term goal of the Imagining Justice in Baltimore initiative is to create a model of interreligious learning and dialogue around differences that demonstrates how a strong commitment to religious pluralism can shape public life.

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