Little Village’s Padres Angeles changing hearts, promoting peace

By Joyce Duriga |Editor
Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Little Village’s Padres Angeles changing hearts, promoting peace

Little Village’s Padres Angeles, or Parent Angels, is dedicated to saving lives and promoting peace through various outreach efforts. Doris Hernandez founded the group seven years ago after her son was killed by gun violence. The group is based out of St. Agnes of Bohemia Church, 2651 S. Central Park Ave. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of Padres Angeles process in an anti-violence march for Day of the Dead through Little Village on Nov. 1, 2014. The group regularly holds and participates in peace marches to end violence. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Photos of young people killed by gun violence are on display at Padres Angeles Mother’s Day gathering May 14, 2019 at St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Doris Hernández and Dolores Castañeda light candles before leading mothers in prayer near an altar the group made with pictures of deceased family members on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2019. The gathering to pray for children lost to violence took place at St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mothers who are members of Padres Angeles participate in the Mother’s Day service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mothers who are members of Padres Angeles hug and smile during in the Mother’s Day service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dolores Castañeda shares hugs with other moms. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

On Nov. 17, 2012, Doris Hernández’s son Freddy, 20, died after being shot in the face and chest while standing in an alley in Little Village.

Following the shooting, she attended a vigil for him held at the scene and where his blood was being washed off the pavement. About 80 people were there.

When it was time for her to say a few words, Hernández told the group, which included many young people, that although she didn’t know her son’s killer, she forgave him, and she begged the young men attending the vigil to not to seek retribution.

Her words shocked those in attendance.

“We have to be very clear,” Hernández said. “Forgiveness heals us and is a gift from God. I don’t know who this person [the murderer] was, but I wanted to say that I forgave him in front of all the young people wanting revenge. That has to end, and it is hard to forgive, but it is not hard when God is in the midst of it.”

She recalls looking into the faces of the young people and it moved her heart.

“I saw them, and I felt very sad. They came to me, hugged me and cried on my shoulder,” Hernández said.

That day an idea began to form in her mind of using her son’s tragic death to help other mothers, young people and adults in Little Village not to just cope with gun violence but to promote peace. The idea became “Padres Angeles” or “Parent Angels,” a grassroots violence-prevention group based at St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, 2651 S. Central Park Ave.

The group holds monthly workshops for parents on topics such as managing anger, domestic violence and how to treat children if they misbehave, along with craft sessions for children. They also do outreach through street Masses, block cleanups, meals and general outreach to the people of Little Village, including gang members. Perhaps most powerful are the testimonies mothers give about what they have endured losing children to gun violence and the longterm consequences.

Father Thomas Boharic was a newly ordained priest serving at St. Agnes when Hernández’s son was killed. He now serves at St. Simon in nearby Gage Park, but continues to support her efforts and says he is especially moved by the depth of her faith.

“There’s something about her. She really feels like this is a mission to respond, that her son would want her to do this,” Boharic said. “Doris knows that her deep spirituality and God are what have gotten her through everything. She really feels like it is God who has appointed her to do this work.”

Hernández leads Padres Angeles with Dolores Castañeda, whose daughter was shot in the stomach and survived. The group works with other organizations and churches in Little Village and surrounding neighborhoods. Members  attend funerals of those killed by gun violence and visit victims in the hospital and those in jail.

“We experienced that same trauma and we know what the moms go through,” Hernández said.

“Doris and me, we always say the base is the family. When the family is in crisis the children are going to be in crisis too,” Castañeda said. “We explain to moms that when there is dysfunction in the homes, the children don’t want to see that or hear that. They go outside where they meet the gangs who promise them a new family.”

The group encourages families to pray together and resolve their problems before they start getting bigger.

“But we know it’s difficult because a lot of times they are single moms who work two jobs and they need to provide their basic needs. And the children are home alone,” Castañeda said.

This summer, Padres Angeles started taking over blocks on Saturday mornings, cleaning up the streets. They provided hot dogs, ice cream and art for the children during the events and hosted peace circles.

“We’re always talking about prayer and about God, but we’re not pushing that,” Hernández said.

Many children growing up in neighborhoods that see frequent violence often don’t dream about the future because they don’t know if they will live that long or not, Castañeda said.

“This is so hard for us to hear, because these young boys and girls have all this potential, all these talents, all these gifts that God gives to them but they aren’t developing that because they aren’t exposed to other things,” she said. “How can a young person concentrate on education when their friend has been killed, their brother has been killed, their uncle? All these traumas never heal because they don’t have the resources.”

Often the most powerful efforts of Padres Angeles come through testimonies shared by mothers with young people and adults involved in the violence.

“I can do so much as a priest,” Boharic said. “But there is something that Padres Angeles can do that no one else can do. Especially through the power of a mom who tells her story that is very, very powerful and that really hits youth in a special way. Not just youth but the whole community. There’s something about the power a mom has to promote peace and reconciliation.”

While it’s hard to quantify the effect Padres Angeles has had in reducing homicides in Little Village, Boharic said he knows the group has made an impact.

“I believe that the opportunities we have had to speak to the community, to speak to those who suffered from violence in those moments that are really critical have reduced violence,” he said. “I have seen youth who have been affected by the words of Doris and by her love and by her forgiveness.”

Padres Angeles is accepting donations of art supplies, school supplies and other materials for its ongoing work. To donate, call Doris Hernández at 773-510-8900 or email [email protected].

- - -

Contributing to this story was Chicago Católico


  • gun violence
  • anti-violence

Related Articles