Responding to gang murders: ‘Peace starts in one’s heart’
SS. Peter and Paul parishioners urged to ‘bring light’ to area plagued by violent crime.
“We want peace, we want violence to stop,” said José and Celia Pérez García, who were wearing stickers on their lapels that said “Basta!” (Enough!) Their 11-year-old son José Jr. listened attentively.
They were among the hundreds of Wilmington’s SS. Peter and Paul parishioners who attended a bilingual (English/Spanish) evening Mass and procession March 17 to pray for justice and peace.
So far this year, eight murders --- two of them SS. Peter and Paul parishioners --- have been reported in that area, most of them gang-related. Five happened in January.
The most recent occurred Feb. 26 at the corner of Bay View, close to Wilmington Avenue. Boyfriend and girlfriend Meldrick Melgoza and Carolina Ramirez, both 16, were shot after 7 p.m., reportedly by a person who walked towards them, fired multiple times at each one and disappeared. Police said the case is in its early stages of investigation.
Ramírez was part of the last group of youth to do their confirmation at the parish.
“Peace starts in one’s heart,” Norbertine Father Raymond Perez, pastor, told the packed church during the homily. “In the same way war requires training soldiers and having factories to build the weapons, peace takes effort. It never comes just by sitting around and doing nothing.”
He noted that in a recent meeting between area residents, city officials and the Los Angeles Police Department, he sensed that many of the residents are “putting more emphasis on what the police should do.”
“What are you going to do?” he asked the assembly. He urged the community to start by reconciling with each other in their family circle. “What do you expect from kids if they see their parents don’t get along and are always fighting?”
He encouraged parents to establish channels of communication with their children, asking them about their friends and being watchful of their whereabouts at all time. He also urged the youth to respect their parents’ efforts, to understand sometimes they are not at home because they are working two jobs to put the food on the table. And he also asked the assembly to stay aware of all activities going on in the neighborhood, and not be afraid of reporting suspicious activity to the police.
“Effort, effort, effort,” reiterated Father Perez, and asked parishioners to send emails with ideas of activities that could be done at the church to help heal the community.
“Let’s make ourselves right with God; let’s reconcile with God through confession and let peace flow around us, starting by making an effort to have peace in the family,” he said. “Peace is a result of love and justice, which bring the light to the neighborhood.”
In a short address, L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former police officer who patrolled the area, urged the assembly to work collectively in restoring faith and confidence in the community by supporting one another and getting involved in the “good things” happening in the neighborhood.
“Whoever loves evil hates the light, and evil will always be exposed,” he said, citing the day’s reading in the Gospel of John.
Parishioners said the messages were comforting, but some admitted that whenever there is an opportunity they would like to leave the area because it is getting more difficult to walk freely, especially during night hours.
“I don’t like it here,” said Antonio Carranza, 14. “There’s a lot of gangs and it’s not safe to walk around.”
“It worries me a lot because young people are prey to all kinds of people and ideas,” added his grandmother, Diocelina Garcia. Referring to Carranza and his 15-year-old cousin Fidel Castro, both public high school students, the longtime SS. Peter and Paul parishioner said, “I try to be with them most of the time and bring them to church.”
“It’s getting harder to walk around on your own,” said Eric Serafin, 16, a friend of the young murdered couple, Melgoza and Ramirez. He described them as “fun people. They were the friendly type.”
Maria Reyes, an area resident for the past 23 years, said that unfortunately most affordable L.A. neighborhoods struggle with the same safety issues, which keeps her from moving from Wilmington, although she has considered it on occasion.
Most of parishioners concurred with Father Perez that violence starts at home.
“That’s why we’re here,” said Celia García, “to pray for those parents whose kids have gone astray and to ask for calmness, peace.”