Undocumented Life: A birthday celebration for a Little Village church that mixes immigration activism and faith

In the heart of Little Village, there's a small, hardly noticeable, church. Since it opened five years ago, this congregation has become a well-known beacon of activism for the rights of undocumented immigrants.

On any given day, there are several parishioners working on campaigns. There are families fighting deportation orders, workers trying to recover lost wages and a recent successful hunger strike that persuaded local hospitals to help three undocumented young men receive organ transplants.

This weekend Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission celebrated five years of mixing faith and activism. Dozens of members of the congregation attended a special mass on Saturday and later a party to celebrate the anniversary.

Several elected officials joined the celebration, such as U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and state Rep. Lisa Hernandez.

"We opened the church to bring hope to people who didn't have hope," said the Rev. Jose Landaverde, who founded the congregation. "We needed to tackle the problems that were marginalizing our community."

There are many issues that the congregation has to deal with, he said, including domestic violence, a big problem in the community, along with deportations and fair pay for low-wage workers. The congregation also sends humanitarian aid to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.

The church opened with only $900 for rent and a few followers. It has now grown to more than 300 active members. Landaverde says the church also has thousands of  supporters who have joined the congregation to rally around issues of violence, jobs and immigration.

Landaverde first came to the U.S. in 1990, as a political refugee from El Salvador. He was around 8 years old when the civil war broke out and he was conscripted to join the guerilla FMLN party.

He fought in the jungle for nine years before a military arrest and beating caused him to flee. To read more about Landaverder's views on immigration and his congregation read a feature that appeared in the Chicago Reporter's July/August issue.

Photos by William Camargo

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