Often, the violence and the growth of this darkness are strongly related to poverty, to poor schools, to high school dropout rates of more than 50 percent. Parents, many undocumented and in a foreign environment, are working two or three jobs just to pay the rent and put food on the table and are confused by the culture. Their children, with feet in two worlds, encounter forces that rip away their foundational values and present them with an array of loyalties and survival techniques that coarsen and harden them into a way of life forming them into the citizens of this valley of blood and death. Parents generally do not know what to say to these children, or even how to see the warning signs.
Throughout the years, the Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns of the archdiocese has had a vibrant ministry visiting the jails of San Francsico, Marin and San Mateo counties and bringing the word of God to the perpetrators of the violence. We help them to reform and change and journey with them throughout the court system and offer them a safe place to continue their lives when they get out.
We have now broadened our approach and expanded our ministry to include the families of victims and perpetrators and the entire community wracked by the pain of this violence. This new approach is called “Restorative Justice Ministry.” In order to begin this, we have slowly established a presence on the streets.
Any time there is a violent crime, we go to the scene. A small group of volunteer laypeople and clergy hold a simple prayer service. The victims’ families are invited. We talk with them; we help them with burial costs if needed; we listen to their pain as they mourn; we support them on their journey. In certain cases, we have been successful in including the families of the perpetrators. This has led to reconciliation. Restorative justice is about healing wounded relationships. It is about bringing the forgiveness and love needed to wash away the blood and terror. It is not easy work. Fear stops people from leaving their homes to challenge the demons of the streets. It is even more difficult for those who live in a different part of the city to claim this as their responsibility. Someone who lives on the west side of the city may read about the murders and think about them as if they happened in some faraway foreign country, not a few miles from their doorstep.