Preventing youth violence with forgiveness

reflections on life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Neatly hidden by huge waterways and bridges some 12 miles from New Orleans via the Barataria exit of the Westbank Expressway, the hamlet of Lafitte lives up to its name as part of the lair of the notorious pirate, Jean Lafitte. Although I have been there several times, the allure and lore of the area have not diminished.
A friend dating back to 1971 during my teaching years at Xavier University in New Orleans, Irishman Father John Ryan invited me to do another revival at his merged Parish of St. Anthony/St. Pius X. With the theme “Dump Anxiety; Welcome Healing and Peace,” we waded into our Saturday Mass version of the revival.
Punctuating picturesque Lafitte, Friday, March 20, marked the first day of spring with a black (new) moon, the third of six supermoons that will occur in 2015.  That moon blocked the sun in a total eclipse in northernmost European countries.
After the Saturday afternoon segment of the St. Anthony/St. Pius X Parish revival, Father John Ryan and I drove to the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans where I was to be one of the speakers at an event hosted by the New Orleans Black Indians Alliance (NOBIA). “Soiree of Feathers,” Bury the Hatchet, Raise the Flag, was the event held to celebrate a rich and storied New Orleans culture and tradition. Once very territorial and violent, the only tribal competition now is who is “prettier” in dress.
This culture/tradition celebration can be experienced and lived through a single vision, collective work, creativity, self-determination and purpose – almost synonymous with the Nguzo Saba, seven core principles of African Heritage: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work/Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); Imani (Faith). These are enunciated in Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26-January 1.
I urged them to do what the city of Boston did in 1996 with huge success. Sensing that lack of communication and coordinated efforts were impeding efforts to help their violent youth, officials of Boston cobbled together The Boston Strategy To Prevent Youth Violence, an organization that melded parents, schools, churches, police, probation officers, public officials, social service agencies, community organizations – and, yes! street gangs – into close cooperating partners.
So successful was the Boston Strategy in reducing youth violence that in 1997 President Bill Clinton launched a National Anti-gang and Youth Violence Strategy modeled after the Boston Strategy. With our youth running wild in New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit and other cities, it is time to imitate the Boston Strategy.
At the Sunday 11 a.m. Mass, I admired once more the cozy semicircular design of St. Anthony Church, the thrice-flooded concrete floor marked with attractive patina, and the painting of the fish on the floor with the Greek word for fish, serving as an acronym that means Jesus Christ of God Son Savior.
Almost as old as Christianity itself, that fish symbol is found in art and architecture.
Through major hurricanes, most of the people of Lafitte have repaired or rebuilt their homes, but some have moved to higher ground. Thus, after losing a number of church members, Father Ryan is struggling to rebuild membership. If nothing else, his deep Irish faith, sense of mission and humor are in evidence to his parishioners with whom he has a very personal, spiritual relationship.
No matter what the age, condition or locale of an audience is, wrestling with negative stress (anxiety) is a theme that always strikes home, since it is something we all have in common. Public Enemy No. 1 is my personal moniker for negative stress. It sours, ruins and can ultimately destroy all peace of mind, feelings of joy, one’s nerves and – alarmingly – one’s immune system. Once our immune system is destroyed, the way is open for any disease, even cancer, to invade our body.
While there are many contributing factors to negative stress, the very worst of all is guilt/unforgiveness. Sadly, human weakness makes forgiving – even forgiving ourselves – very difficult. Yet, forgiving is the most important thing in life.
Our reward for forgiving each person without exception is enormous: peace of mind, relaxed nerves, joie de vivre, complete healing of body and soul, fulfillment.
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)