South Side Weekly: Prisoners of Hope

After a century, Saint Sabina's fights an uphill battle

Article by Jake Bittle

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Photo by Luke White

...Saint Sabina’s and Pfleger especially are famous in Chicago not just because they have spent forty years fighting to improve quality of life in Auburn Gresham, but because many think they have succeeded. The church’s work in the neighborhood has been described by admirers ranging from the Sun-Times’ Carol Marin to President Barack Obama as “heroic,” “transformative,” and as the “lifeblood” of the community. But after decades spent working for change within the neighborhood, Saint Sabina’s has taken up larger, more complex battles. The church now focuses its local outreach and intervention on the same systemic issues that have made Chicago the object of national attention—gun violence, unemployment, and disinvestment. Many members of the church admit that these battles often seem impossible to win: although the church is a fundraising powerhouse, with dozens of programs, services, and ministries, it deals with inequality and abandonment that extend beyond Auburn Gresham. Moreover, the church exists in a state that has gutted funding for social services and a city that seems unwilling or unable to address the crises facing its black neighborhoods.

But Saint Sabina’s has only fought harder as the outlook has gotten worse, because what keeps Pfleger and the church’s leaders wading upstream isn’t just the belief that they’re doing the right thing. They also believe that no matter how bad things look, a higher power has ensured their victory from the start. Governments and charities might see social change as a matter of policy, but the church sees it as one of destiny; in other words, even if they can’t win, they have to keep fighting....

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