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“Home for Christmas” a dream not possible

How can one bring joy and a sense of love and care to a place that is the consequence of violent and unlawful actions?

Enero 2014 | Ernestine Velarde, odn (Santa Ana, California) | Experiencias

For several weeks before Christmas one hears the old favorite nostalgic Christmas song, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” bringing memories of celebrations filled with human warmth and security. This is not the case for the hundred plus youth incarcerated at the Sylmar Juvenile facility north of Los Angeles. Their Christmas is spent behind bars and, even if not so, their home conditions are often high risk environments that do not provide the desired love, joy, peace and security.

On December 17 a group of Company of Mary sisters and other volunteers crossed the threshold to an unfamiliar and ominous reality, the Sylmar jail for over 1000 youth. There were many steps of preparation, an Advent of sorts, before the awaited event took place: a Christmas party and special dinner for young people spending the Christmas season confined to this facility.

The question haunting our efforts was, how can one bring joy and a sense of love and care to a place that is the consequence of violent and unlawful actions? But we discovered that love and the spirit of solidarity transcend the space that divides the so-called free and the unfree.

The journey to this day began mid-September when the sisters from the Saint Anne community received an invitation to organize and prepare a Christmas celebration for the young inmates at Sylmar. The invitation came from some young people who do ministry at the facility on a weekly basis. The sisters could not help but take very seriously such an invitation proposed by young people.

The preparations began: first of all a small fund-raising festival had to be organized in order to raise the funds needed to provide a special dinner for that evening. The festival took place in the driveway of the sisters’ home with an unprecedented response. There was food, music, dancing, a neighborhood festival with the presence of friends from near and far. Countless people donated the food that was sold, musicians volunteered their time, and the idea of reaching out to youth in these circumstances touched people in a way that we never anticipated. The evening concluded with people speaking about the preparation for the following year!

Ernestine Velarde, odn: born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Masters in both English literature and Applied Spirituality Presently serves as Coordinator of Ministries of the U.S. Province.

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