Aspiring Mexican priest brings youth to the “Gang of Christ” | The Wider Image

July 27, 2016
An aspiring Catholic priests Jose Luis Guerra (L) and Jose Luis Fernandez, members of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, bless young men during a visit to a neighbourhood in the municipality of Garcia, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril       SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY   - RTSJX35

(An aspiring Catholic priests Jose Luis Guerra (L) and Jose Luis Fernandez  bless young men during a visit to a neighbourhood in the municipality of Garcia, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril)

In the troubled fringes of the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, an aspiring priest is using his faith to reach out to young gang members and at-risk youth, and bring them into his “Gang of Christ.”

Less than 200 kilometers from the U.S. border, Monterrey is a wealthy city of corporate trailblazers. But violence is never far away on the outskirts, where bricklayers and factory workers walk poorly lit streets to reach simple cinderblock homes.

Jorge Luis Guerra, 34, also walks those pathways, searching for young gang members who might listen to his message.

It is a risky vocation: although violence in Monterrey has fallen from the bloody peaks of 2011, an unknown man pacing the streets after dark still risks being construed as a threat.

“My alba is my shield,” Guerra says, referring to his white religious robes.

Sometimes seen in his Superman logo baseball cap, Guerra is a deacon, and will be ordained as a priest in mid-August.

Guerra bumps fists with the young boys and girls he meets, and when he talks to them, he sounds more like a psychologist than a priest. Given to cracking jokes, he says of his considerable girth: “It just means that I am full of love.”

Often he visits the backstreets with some of his 15 fellow missionaries, two-thirds of whom are ex-gang members themselves.

The process of becoming a missionary means renouncing not necessarily the gang, but acts that Guerra says devalue people as human beings: theft, assault, insult and, in some cases, murder.

This is followed by three days at ‘camp’ where candidates must reflect on their lives and commitment to Christ; then, seven weeks at missionary school and finally, upon graduation, a party complete with cumbia dance music.

The official ceremony takes place in a public square, where Guerra explains the responsibilities that come with the job, then presents a Bible to the kneeling subjects.

A few weeks must pass before the newly-minted missionaries can begin visiting neighbourhoods – first Guerra and the others must tell local gangs the new recruits are no longer their enemies. Instead, he says, they are now members of the “Gang of Christ.”

SLIDESHOW

Young people, who attend the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, spend time at a park.

Young people, who attend the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, spend time at a park.

Jaziel and Plasma, both attending the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, tour a flea market.

Jaziel and Plasma, both attending the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, tour a flea market.

A barber gives a haircut to a young man, both attending the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ.

A barber gives a haircut to a young man, both attending the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ.

Daniel, who attends the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, poses for a picture to show a scar on his face, at his home.

Daniel, who attends the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, poses for a picture to show a scar on his face, at his home.

Daniel sits on his bed.

Daniel sits on his bed.

Jose Luis Guerra blesses a woman with diabetes at her home.

Jose Luis Guerra blesses a woman with diabetes at her home.

Jose Luis Guerra checks shoes at a second hand shop.

Jose Luis Guerra checks shoes at a second hand shop.

Jose Luis Guerra prays with residents while blessing their house.

Jose Luis Guerra prays with residents while blessing their house.

Jose Luis Guerra drives his car towards a neighbourhood in the municipality of Garcia.

Jose Luis Guerra drives his car towards a neighbourhood in the municipality of Garcia.

Young people listen to members of Raza Nueva in Christ.

Young people listen to members of Raza Nueva in Christ.

Catholic priest Jose Luis Fernandez blesses a young woman.

Catholic priest Jose Luis Fernandez blesses a young woman.

Members of Raza Nueva in Christ (rear) arrive to a neighbourhood to talk to people.

Members of Raza Nueva in Christ (rear) arrive to a neighbourhood to talk to people.

Source: Aspiring priest brings youth to the “Gang of Christ” | The Wider Image | Reuters

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