Yesterday, I accompanied Fr. Mike to a special liturgy in honor of the year anniversary of the death of a young boy in our neighborhood named Jean. He was around 15 years old when he was stabbed to death last year. The anniversary liturgy was held in his mother's home and I entered the living room to find a large group of his teenage friends. They sat quietly, awaiting the "mass." We began the prayer service with a few words from Jean's mother. She was obviously sad and said that after a year, she found her faith waning. However, it was uplifting for her to see so many of her son's friends show up to remember him. The young girl who read the first reading stated that the most impactful part of the reading was when it said "God will dry all of our tears."
Up until this point, I didn't notice anything culturally different. It was a group of family and friends mourning the death of their loved one. It wasn't until after the prayers, during the social part of the event, that I started thinking, "This is not the way I grew up. This is strange." During the service, I noticed one of the young girls had a baby. Not unusual. Then I noticed about 3 other teens with young children. One was wearing a tank top, despite the cold weather, and slippers instead of shoes. The mother of Jean began chatting with the teens. She was asking questions, trying to figure out who Jean had been dating before his death. She had reason to believe that he had left a girl pregnant before his death and that she now had a 3 month old granddaughter. She went through a list of girls that she thought he may have been sleeping with and questioned each of the girls with a baby about the age of their children. As Fr. Mike and I drove away, we passed by a large group of the teens that had been at the house with us. They were sitting on the street, drinking beer and smoking. Most seemed to be between 14 and 18 years old.
Are these cultural differences? Class differences? Probably a little of both. The one thing that cannot be denied is that the reality here can be rough. Things that would have parents in a rage in the US are both common and accepted here among teens and their parents - sex, drinking, smoking and violence. Sometimes, we get frustrated when the activities in our chapel don't work out. But, then we remember the harsh reality and it makes us grateful for the kids that do participate. The teens here need a radical experience to wake them up, to help them realize that they can build a better life. And that radical experience is God in their lives.