Gang violence, especially among young men, is rampant in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where seminarian Brother Ernesto Sandoval, S.T., spent part of his summer getting hands-on mission experience. One day, he noticed a young man hanging back from a group of people who were gathering outside the church to talk with our missionary priests. The young man was wearing a glove that signified his allegiance to a particular gang. Normally, gang members did not venture into groups like this. If you are in a gang, you are considered a danger and looked upon with suspicion by most people.
But Brother Ernesto was curious about this young man, so he walked over to greet him, introduced himself and learned the young man’s name was Javier. They chatted a few minutes, and Javier admitted that he was in a gang, but Brother Ernesto got the feeling there was more to his story. The next day, Javier was there again…and continued to visit thereafter. Each time Javier would visit, Brother Ernesto went over to talk with him.
Finally, Javier admitted that at times he thought of getting out of the gang. But as he told Brother Ernesto, “There are two ways to get out of a gang: to die or to leave the gang and be killed.” Sensing the hopelessness that Javier was feeling, Brother Ernesto promised Javier he would pray for him, and he invited him to come back to talk.
“Sometimes all we can do for another person is listen to them with compassion and let them know they are loved,” reflects Brother Ernesto. “Javier was obviously looking for a ray of hope in what seems like a hopeless situation. I couldn’t really do anything to help him leave the gang, but I hope I helped him to see that there are people who care about him. And that just might be enough for now.”