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Finding Faith Again in Immokalee


Today’s post was written by ISN intern Mary Frances McGowan ’17. Mary Frances is double majoring in communications and political science at John Carroll University in the greater Cleveland area, where she also serves as managing editor of The Carroll News, the university’s newspaper. 

As incense danced in the glow of the stained glass windows, I realized that I had found my faith again.


Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Kate Caldwell.

In 2014, I went to Immokalee, Florida with a group of students from John Carroll University. Like many who attend immersion trips, I was excited to expand my worldview, learn from those we encountered and affirm my passion for social justice. Unlike many, however, my connection to my Catholic faith entering the trip was minimal at best.

In fact, I had struggled with being Catholic since the day I was old enough to think about what it really meant.  When I saw religion being used as a vehicle of  intolerance in my childhood parish, the confusion started. The Jesus that I thought I knew loved the ones no one else did, ate with the hated, and spoke for the voiceless. I longed for a church experience that was able to look past dogmas and see the root of my Christianity: love for one another. Where were the martyrs of El Salvador? Where were the Dorothy Days? I hadn’t found them amongst me yet.

That was until I traveled to a small farmworker community in the heart of Florida. As I spoke to community organizers, immigrants, farmworkers and children that week, I saw in them a faith put into action that I had been looking for in the Catholicism that once seemed so lonely. As I was surrounded by the faces I met that week that day in Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, I felt more comfortable in a parish that I had known for an hour than one I had known my whole life. I had never felt so overwhelmingly at peace.

I thank the people of Immokalee, most of whom are undocumented, for giving me my faith back. Suffice it to say, that gift of spiritual conviction is one that I will never be able to repay, which is why so much of my heart has stayed in the small Floridian town. My devotion to human comprehensive immigration reform developed while there, which is why our nation’s tendency to reduce the very human issue of migration to cold statistics is disturbing to me. Although immigration reform injustices are not limited to Mexico and Central America, Pope Francis will be calling a part of the world to our attention that desperately needs careful, humane global attention. Luckily, when the Pope speaks, people listen.

I hope that Pope Francis’s visit to the Mexican border will shift our consciousness from a need to build walls to one that longs to build bridges.  I hope that dialogue regarding immigration reform strays from hate and settles with understanding. Although I do not expect every person in America to have a sudden change of heart, I am positive that Francis’s visit to the border has the potential to create immense change. I have faith in our nation, like the people of Immokalee had in me.

As a nation of immigrants, it’s time to embrace our culturally rich past, present and future. If anyone can help us, Papa Francesco can.


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