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Catholic youths reach out to prisoners, families

06 PAGE YNIA making cards 2Olivia Francis from St. Elizabeth shows letters made by her team. (Photos by Julio Escobar)

July 27, 2017
Christina Gray

Almost 80 Catholic high school students from California, Nevada and Oregon spent the last two weeks of July in San Francisco learning about restorative justice by hand-making cards for the incarcerated, their families and survivors of violent crime.

From July 17-21, students from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School in Las Vegas, St. Francis High School in Sacramento and St. Kateri Tekakwitha High School in Santa Clarita met at St. Mary’s Cathedral with Julio Escobar of the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s restorative justice ministry to learn more about restorative justice through its Junior Pen Pal program. Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and St. Juan Diego Parish in Portland participated July 24-28.

The visiting teens were participants in Young Neighbors in Action, a nationwide service-learning program that according to its website youngneighbors.org, provides a solid, Catholic approach to service and justice that balances Scripture and Catholic social teaching, with direct service and a justice consciousness.

The organization reached out to Escobar to see if the Archdiocese of San Francisco would be interested in an opportunity to share his programs with the young students and he leapt at the chance.

“For the most part, the students came in without any knowledge of restorative justice,” said Escobar, whose office supports crime victims and survivors, their families as well as the incarcerated and their families and the formerly incarcerated. The Junior Pen Pal Program was launched during the 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy with local Catholic students.

Sitting at long tables strewn with sheets of colorful paper, pens and markers, the students composed general greetings, Mother’s and Father’s Day and also Christmas cards. Escobar urged the students to reach for one of the Bibles on each table to find scriptural inspiration for their messages.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he makes straight your path,” from Proverbs 3:5-6 was the greeting inside a flowery card by a student from St. Kateri Tekakwitha High School.

A Father’s Day card in the shape of a green frog included the greeting, “Hey man, things may be rough but never forget that from the start, you have been an idol for that little one at home. Trust me, that adoration never truly leaves. And know that your Heavenly Father’s got your back!”

The prisoner cards will be given to inmates in San Francisco County Jail, the juvenile justice system and San Quentin State Prison. Others will be used by Escobar for other restorative justice events.

Escobar also introduced the key principles of restorative justice which include encounter with all those involved in or affected by a crime, making amends to victims for harm caused and reintegration of the offender and victim into their communities.

Afterward, students shared what they understood about the concept and shared ideas for putting it into action in their own lives.

“Restorative justice is an attempt to reach a state of shalom by understanding and reacting to an act of crime,” said Olivia Francis from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School.

“Restorative justice is the restoration of basic human dignity,” said Kerri from the same school.

“Restorative justice helps offer people who have made a wrong or violent choice the assurance of the love of God. I can relate to this because when I make a wrong choice I still want the love of God as well,” said a student from St. Francis High School.


06 YNIA making cards 1 HALFStudents from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School in Las Vegas turned to the Bible for inspiration in making cards for prison inmates, their families and survivors of violent crime July 18 at St. Mary’s Cathedral as part of the Young Neighbors In Action program.

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