Home | About Us | Subscriptions | Advertising | El Centinela
Catholic Sentinel | Portland, OR Wednesday, May 4, 2016
CYO Football 2015 2015 Priest Reassignments, Archdiocese of Portland Cardinal Francis George dies Mothering with faith Sisters of the Holy Names, 2015 Live Nativity at St. John the Baptist 2014 Fall CYO results Catholic Charities Donor Lunch 2014 Year of Consecrated Life opening Mass Holy Spirit Sisters Jubilee 2014 Seaside youth conference Mount Angel 125th Northwest Hub Furlow at papal Mass 2014 Rosary Bowl NW Brother André 2014 Fall 40 Days for Life 2014 Inauguration of Fr. Mark Poorman Coffee shop at abbey First day of school, 2014 Regis High School 50th anniversary 2014 Crooked Finger Pilgrimage Mass with migrant farm workers Maronite Ordination Consecration to "Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Fatima" CYO track Southern Oregon Evangelization 2014 Priest Ordination Christ the King youth 2014 priest reassignments Our Lady of Lavang Confirmation, 2014 Memorial Day 2014 2014 Transitional deacon ordination Padre Foster Granados visits Albany Bishop Smith ordination Canonization of Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII Bishop Peter Smith 2014 Easter Vigil 2014 Walk of Cross 2014 Chrism Mass CYO basketball 2014 St. Patrick of the Forest 150th Catholic Charities Celebration of Hope, 2014 Boys2Men Archbishop visits Oregon State Penitentiary 40 Day Vigil for Life, 2014 Pope Francis creates new cardinals St. Henry shelter 2014 CYO swimming Funeral of Fr. George Wolf Travel on a budget Lunar New Year, 2014 Tech in Catholic schools 2014 Right to Life Rally Archbishop visits Santiam Prison First Mass in Oregon Milwaukie Posada St. Francis, Sherwood, Toy Drive Central Catholic football Typhoon Haiyan Deacon Ordination/ Kresbach, Schmitt A Catholic fisherman St. Cecilia Centennial Southern Oregon Welcome Mass Shepherd of the Valley, Central Point, dedication Grotto Anniversary 2013 Champions of Faith Dinner Gardenripe farms Coleman hop farm Corvallis Year of Faith Archbishop Howard at St. Rose Hitchhiking priests Franciscan Spiritual Center Sacred Heart, Medford Migrant Mass Tanzanians' jubilee World Youth Day 2013 2013 Blessing of the Animals 2013 Freedom Mass Albany school closure Fabric art Megan graduates from Catholic school St. Vincent de Paul Hillsboro 2013 Deacon ordination Sister Theresa Lamkin St. Helen Mission, Brownsville Marist Brainiacs St. Mary, Eugene St. Francis eighth graders Ascension confirmation 2013 Pastoral Ministry Conference St. Joseph Salem — Year of Faith Archbishop Sample's Installation Mass 2013 Archbishop Sample Chrism Mass 2013 2013 Young Catholics Pope Francis inauguration Celebration of Hope Vlazny Farewell Mass Archbishop Vlazny Farewell St. Paul Church in St. Paul Valley Catholic Green Building Rite of Election 2013 Water summit 2013 Lunar New Year Alveda King in Eugene New Monsignors, 2013 2013 Right to Life Rally MLK Mass, 2013 St. Henry, Gresham, Centennial Jesuit High drama School uniforms Friar in the mall Holy Trinity food ministry January Book Covers St. Andre Bessette food Year of Faith Mass Nestucca Sanctuary Hillsboro Choirs Father Betschart installation Salem Religious Freedom Rally Year of Faith Vespers, Awards Roy's Catholic School Adelante Mujeres 10th anniversary New Blanchet House Missionaries of Holy Spirit Priest, religious photos Providence Nursing Schools Pioneros Fortnight for Freedom Mark Bentz Deacon Ordination OLL School Walk Through Gaga over science St. Philip Neri Centennial Ordination of Bishop Cary SVDP, Grants Pass Holy Cross School centennial Confirmation - Mount Angel Holy Land Pilgrimage Blanchet Watershed Chrism Mass, 2012 Bishop-designate Cary Pope in Cuba, 2012 SSMO 125th Jubilee Mass Pope Benedict in Mexico 2012 Catholic Charities Celebration 2012 Madeleine Mardi Gras Centennial Rally for Life, 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Mass 2012 Day Laborers-Guadalupe Guadalupe 2011 Christ the King, Milwaukie, 50th Sesame Doughnuts Central Catholic Volleyball St. Peter Centennial Deacon Ordination, October 2011 St. Agatha Centennial Rosary Bowl 2011 St. Wenceslaus, Scappoose, Centennial Filipino celebration Polish Festival 2011 Holy War Football 2011 World Youth Day 2011 Sun Gold Farm Our Lady of Victory's New Church Freedom Mass 2011 St. Mary Church Steeple Removal Priest reassignments, 2011 Old Catholic Buildings Paige Rice, St. Mary's runner Graduation 2011 Easter vigils 2011 Pastoral Ministry Conference Basketball Holy War 2011 Search for Peace 2011

Pacifica Senior Living - Calaroga Terrace

Home : News : Nation and World
7/28/2014 12:23:00 PM
In El Salvador, priests work to fight influence of gangs
Cathoilc News Service photo
Father Salomon Perez stands near a recreational facility he had built next to the St. Joseph of Flores Parish in Tonacatepeque, El Salvador. Parishioners suffered from gang-related crime committed until Father Perez negotiated a truce. El Salvador has h ad many children leave due to violence and attempts at forcibly recruiting them into gangs.
Cathoilc News Service photo
Father Salomon Perez stands near a recreational facility he had built next to the St. Joseph of Flores Parish in Tonacatepeque, El Salvador. Parishioners suffered from gang-related crime committed until Father Perez negotiated a truce. El Salvador has h ad many children leave due to violence and attempts at forcibly recruiting them into gangs.
Catholic News Service

TONACATEPEQUE, El Salvador  -- Gangs once menaced this bedroom community on the outskirts of San Salvador; residents would lock themselves in their homes after dark. The gangs charged residents extortion -- "rent" -- to live in Tonacatepeque and carried out killings in the community -- sometimes attacking residents; other times settling scores among themselves in the streets.

"When I first came to the parish seven years ago, there was a virtual curfew," said Father Salomon Perez, pastor of St. Joseph of Flores Parish.

"People would arrive on buses after work and run to seek refuge in their homes," he said.

Today, a tense peace prevails in Tonacatepeque, where the short, soft-spoken Father Perez brought together tattooed gang members and the community in a negotiated peace five years ago. The truce with local gang leaders has curbed both killings and the crimes committed against ordinary people, in a country with one of highest homicide rates in the hemisphere.

Residents now head out after dark, extortions have stopped and the gangs themselves punish members stepping out of line, Father Perez said.

"This gives the community confidence, knowing that their lives will be respected in the neighborhood, in the place where they live," Father Perez said of the truce.

Father Perez was viewed as a pioneer in El Salvador for brokering agreements with gangs and attempting to establish a sense of security in the areas served by his parish. Work by priests like Father Perez is increasingly important as Central American children abandon their crime-ridden countries and head for the United States on their own or with their families -- often in attempts to attain safety or escape persecution from gangs operating with impunity.

The work is also an attempt to improve life at the local level in El Salvador, where solutions to the growing power of gangs -- initially formed among Salvadorans living in Los Angeles -- seem scant, and observers say the gangs increasingly recruit young people to commit their crimes.

The truce in Tonacatepeque draws comparisons to a national agreement between gang leaders that reduced homicides in 2012 and 2013. The larger truce, however, unraveled under intense criticism that the agreement and negotiations were not transparent and institutionalized impunity in a country where few crimes are solved.

"What the truce did in the country was bring about a 'pax mafiosa,'" said Father Antonio Rodriguez, an oft-outspoken Spanish priest serving the tough Mejicanos suburb of San Salvador.

"The reduction was not sustained through the effectiveness of public policies," said Father Rodriguez, a critic of the truce. "It was sustained through the effectiveness of negotiations that depend on the actors negotiating at that time."

The March 2012 truce between imprisoned leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha and Calle 18 gangs caused an almost immediate impact. In a country of 6.3 million residents, the daily homicide rate dropped from 14 to 5.5, the Economist magazine reported. The gangs agreed to not kill each other, stop recruiting youths and turn some municipalities into neutral territory.

Archbishop Fabio Colindres, armed forces chaplain, participated in the process.

But the truce -- a "deal with the devil," according to critics like Father Rodriguez -- caused controversy. Crimes such as extortion continued, while the government was coy about the existence of any such deal.

"In the end, there was no transformation of the actors committing violence," Father Rodriguez said. "The truce (participants) continued being criminals and killers, who wanted to become political actors or a  political force through the use of crime and violence."

Some think the truce, even though it lacked transparency and strong social support, produced some positive outcomes.

"The homicide rate dropped. That's worthwhile," said Rick Jones, Catholic Relief Services' deputy regional director for global solidarity and justice for Latin American and the Caribbean. "Five thousand to six thousand kids didn't die because of this truce."

Jones also noted, "The gangs have to be part of the solution."

Father Perez considered the truce a non-issue in his community, where he already had worked out an agreement with the gangs to stop attacking ordinary people. Convincing the gangs to give up committing local crimes was not easy, but Father Perez invited gang members to participate in recreational soccer leagues. He also celebrated Mass in the streets and organized his parishioners, who marched for peace.

Father Perez said the gangs interpreted the marches and Mass as a show of unity by the community. They also heard the discourse "and started speaking with us."

He offered the gangs recreational opportunities and spaces in vocational programs, which gang members have not taken advantage of -- even though they've keep their promise not to prey on locals.

"The intention was a way to integrate them into honest jobs, but we've  not had a favorable response," Father Perez said, figuring the gangs made more money through running drugs and acting as hit men.

He also questions if the gangs are at the core of El Salvador's problems or an expression of deeper violence in society.

"There's a much stronger violence on the part of the community than the same violence exercised by the gangs," Father Perez said.

"That's why gangs find space," he said. "Intrafamily violence is much stronger than the violence exercised by the gangs."

Father Rodriguez started a nongovernmental organization, Passionist  Social Service, to work with gangs' lower-level leaders, who seem open to change.

"When there's a personal and community accompaniment and strengthening of local actors and the social fabric, starting with rights, there's a drastic reduction in homicides. I believe that dialogue is what creates this dynamic," Father Rodriguez said.

He also advocates an individual approach.

"We've forgotten the trauma of the human person, of what's personal, of individual attention," he said. "Each individual person requires attention. It's been 15 years of trauma."

Article Comment Submissions
Submit your comments, please. 
Comments are reviewed before being posted to the site. Comments must use respectful language and address the story. Comments are not posted immediately to the site. The site editor may edit content for appropriateness. There may be a delay of 24-48 hours. Comments may also be considered to appear as letters in our print edition, unless the writer specifices no.
Note: All information on this form is required. Your telephone number is for our use only, and will not be attached to your comment.
Submit an Article Comment
First Name:
Last Name:
Anti-SPAM Passcode Click here to see a new mix of characters.
This is an anti-SPAM device. It is not case sensitive.

Advanced Search

Mary Jo Tully ~ The Path to Resurrection

News | Viewpoints | Faith & Spirituality | Parish and School Life | Entertainment | Obituaries | Find Churches and Schools | About Us | Subscriptions | Advertising
E-Newsletter | RSS Feeds

© 2016 Catholic Sentinel, a service of Oregon Catholic Press

Software © 1998-2016 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved