Taking the pledge against drugs and violence

ROXBURY — Members of the Boston Catholic Youth Connection June 24 welcomed Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley to Roxbury’s St. Katherine Drexel Parish to celebrate their 12th consecutive monthly Mass and take an important pledge.

Last summer, the BCYC was founded after the cardinal met with Mayor Thomas M. Menino and leaders of six parishes in Dorchester and Roxbury, said Father Daniel Finn, administrator of St. Peter Church in Dorchester.

“We wanted to see if there was anything we could do to head off the regular escalation of violence in the summer months,” he said.

Every month, one of the six parishes takes a turn hosting a Mass, a meal and other activities, such as a sports program or a discussion session, he said.

After a few months, the nature of the group changed when the youth took over the BCYC’s planning and direction, he said.

By building relationships across the parishes, the young people are able to trade lessons learned and help each other, he said. “At our last month’s gathering, we had a volleyball game and they picked teams from the whole group, not parish versus parish.”

“The BCYC is a group of kids trying to make a difference in our community,” said Christine Nguyen, 17, who attends St. Mark Church in Dorchester.

The Mass itself took on a special meaning as the members, led by the cardinal, read aloud a pledge to resist the lures of drug use, violence, gang membership and pre-marital sex.

Each member was given two copies of the pledge to be signed. One the youth kept. The other, the youth carried to the foot of the altar and placed in a basket there.

“Watching the children take the pledge reminded me of when I took my own vows,” said Sister Christina Onyewuche, EHS, who works at the Drexel parish and who professed 20 years ago.

The words combined with the acts of signing and bring the pledge to the basket were very powerful, she said. “It would be very frightful for them to break it.”

In his homily, the cardinal said the city’s violence reminded him of his younger days at a priest in Washington working primarily with immigrants from Central America.

Then, he said, he performed 50 baptisms for every funeral, but invariably, that one funeral was for a youth killed either from a stray bullet or from a robbery.

“All of us are concerned about the violence and lack of safety and we need everyone to be onboard,” he said. “If we answer that call—If we say yes, that is a special path to holiness.”

The members of the BCYC also used the gathering as a chance to say good-bye to a man who has mentored them for the last year, Brother Celestino Arias, OFM, Cap.

Brother Tino, as he is called, said for the last year he has worked at the teen center at St. Peter’s and been one of the group’s facilitators.

In his next assignment, he will be establishing a similar program in Yonkers, N.Y., and then he will be sent to Africa to build an AIDS ministry.

Father Oscar Pratt, pastor of St. Katherine Drexel Parish, said the BCYC is an important part of the solution to the problems facing the city’s youth.

Father Pratt said all young people are subjected to the same temptations and bad choices, but too often minority children do not have the family or social structure to pull them back from the edge.

The skills needed to survive in a violent or dangerous environment are the very behavior patterns that will keep them from succeeding in mainstream society, he said.

The BCYC is showing the youth another way, he said.