BY ERIN CANNING | August 4, 2017
Recently, as I have pictured my coworkers, students, and families at Dolores Mission in my mind, I saw each person enclosed in this golden glow – much like the evening sunlight, when it paints the western side of buildings in this crisp, warm, golden hue, just before it begins to dip below the city skyline.
I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Peace to know them; peace to have witnessed God’s presence through them; peace to have walked with them. I had this desire to simply sit with them, in the golden holiness of their being.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I could fill pages and pages of my praise of and gratitude for Dolores Mission, where I’ve been working for the last year as a Jesuit volunteer. I won’t torture anyone with the task of reading that, but if I had to consolidate all that I’ve learned this year into 3 things, it’s that: 1) “Sí se puede – y se pudo”, 2) there is always more than 1 (or 2 or 3) sides to a story, and 3) the kingdom of heaven is already here.
“Sí se puede – y se pudo”
This is pretty much the community’s anthem: “It can be done – and was done.”
When I describe Dolores Mission to others, I often refer to it as “The Little Church That Could.” Not only is the church building actually quite small, but here’s this community situated in the “gang capital of the world;” who has limited resources; who comes with a long and painful history of suffering from gang violence; and who has to constantly battle for their rights in the face of economic, housing, immigration and racial injustices.
But despite all of this, this community started a world-renowned gang intervention and rehabilitation organization (known by most as Homeboy Industries). Dolores Mission opened their place of worship to house Central American refugees experiencing homelessness. It demanded basic safety necessities for their neighborhood (such as speed bumps, streetlights, painted lanes) through community activism and civil disobedience. They organize peaceful caminatas throughout the neighborhood to advocate for an end to violence. And Dolores Mission continues to do all of this while facing new problems like unjust I.C.E raids and gentrification.
There is always more than 1 (or 2, or 3) side to a story
No matter what side of the proverbial aisle you sit on, or which left- or right-leaning news source you get your information from, we need to listen for more voices, other voices – the voices that are being silenced.
The one-sided, “black-and-white” narratives that we’re fed are never entirely accurate – at best, they’re not enough to shape our worldview or vote on policies that will affect millions. We need to maintain a healthy skepticism of the news, of the Church, of the actions of politicians, of our nation’s history – and think “Who will this impact positively? Who will be impacted negatively? Where is their voice and what is it saying?”
The kingdom of heaven is already here
Before coming to Dolores Mission, I had little idea of what the ‘kingdom of heaven’ looked like. The only image my mind could conjure up was limited to a loud, fun dinner party happening above the clouds.
But then I came to Dolores Mission. It is a sacred community so full of life, joy, and compassion in the midst of tragedies, struggles, and injustices. And I began to feel the kingdom of heaven present all around me. It is present any time we prayed for an end to violence in our neighborhoods and spread peace during caminatas and misas en el barrio. And when we welcomed strangers at the end of every Mass. Or when we continue the 30+ year-old practice of welcoming immigrants and refugees started by the abuelas y madres of this community. It is present when we honor the guadalupanos y guadalupanas as our guests, every night and at every fiesta. The kingdom of heaven is here, and it looks a lot like Dolores Mission.
This year of service is so full of eye-opening, heartbreaking experiences of joy and struggle that we will never be the same. I am happy to proclaim that my year with Dolores Mission has changed me for life. And I am beyond blessed to have spent a year basking in the golden holiness of others.