Chicagoland

Warriors for Peace: Helping youth combat violence in Gage Park

By Chicago Católico
May 8, 2019

Warriors for Peace: Helping youth combat violence in Gage Park

For the youth of Gage Park on the city’s South Side, the traumatic experience of witnessing gun violence is commonplace. But thanks to Warriors for Peace, the youth group of St. Gall Parish, 5511 S. Sawyer Ave., the neighborhood’s young people have a safe space to express themselves.
Seminarian Cristian Garcia gives a talk on love as members of the Warriors for Peace, a youth group based at St. Gall, 5511 S. Sawyer, meet at the parish on Feb. 8, 2019. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Alberto Rodriguez and Maria Tatiana Aranda act out a sketch on topics related to teens and young adults as members of the Warriors for Peace on Feb. 8, 2019. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic
Francisco Gutierrez prays before acting in a skit as members of the Warriors for Peace. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Alberto Rodriguez pretends to make a call for a date as part of a skit on topics related to teens and young adults. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Geovanny Valadez, Marco Martinez and Oscar Perez participate in a discussion on love. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Charlie Lema and Michelle Enriquez participate in a discussion on dating. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Daniella Cruz gives her viewpoint on topics related to teens and young adults. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For the youth of Gage Park on the city’s South Side, the traumatic experience of witnessing gun violence is commonplace. But thanks to Warriors for Peace, the youth group of St. Gall Parish, 5511 S. Sawyer Ave., the neighborhood’s young people have a safe space to express themselves.

“Regardless of how they feel, they know they can come, cry, laugh, be angry and no one will judge them,” said María Tatiana Arana, one of group’s coordinators.

Warriors for Peace also has young-adult leaders whom the teens can talk with about things going on in their lives.

“We like to talk about what’s happening around the world — racism, immigration, violence — and it’s also important that they understand the realities of the community and what we are going to do about it,” said Aranda.

The group gathers every Friday evening at the parish for activities and music.

“They know that there is always a place open for them every Friday and so we’re happy to be here,” she said.

Warriors for Peace began two years ago as an offshoot of the youth group Agape. Jesús Pérez, one of the founders of Warriors for Peace, said having an outlet for trauma he faced as a teen was lifesaving.

“From an early age, I grew up surrounded by gangbangers, drugs and alcohol and I survived it all,” said Pérez. “Thank God that I had help when I was at my breaking point. Because, frankly, we are not as privileged as those from the North Side or from the suburbs. In our neighborhood you never know if you’re walking alone in the street, or if someone is following you.”

Warriors for Peace also organizes neighborhood peace marches in response to violence. Those efforts started when group member Julio César Lara was killed by gun violence in June 2017.

“He was a happy kid who was involved with Agape at that time,” Pérez said. “He helped a lot at church, at first Communion and all that.”

The tragedy compelled them to reach out beyond the parish.

“It was very painful for us, and the way he died made us very angry. We thought that the best way to express that was to do a march. So we contacted the alderman and a representative of our police precinct, and everything went very well,” Pérez said. 

The group’s young adult leaders such as Sasha Pérez also find strength in the group.

“You know, I love being around these guys,” said Sasha Pérez, who travels to the meetings each week from the city’s north side. “They have so much life and so much heart. It’s so wonderful what God can do to transform their lives. Many of them are from broken homes and they are hurting inside. Coming here changes them.”

Brian Castillo is a high school senior from the Brighton Park neighborhood who attends the group.

“It helps me get out of the house. I don’t have to be there watching TV the whole time or on my phone. It also helps me get closer to God, because that is what Warriors for Peace does,” Castillo said.

Topics:

  • youth ministry
  • anti-violence

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