I love a good story. Thanks to Lisa Wangsness, Godbeat writer for the Boston Globe, I got to read one. Wangsness paints an artful image of 19-year-old Jorge Fuentes a year after he was struck and killed by a stray bullet while walking his dog. Fuentes was, as the vicar of his church put it, "the poster child" for the success of anti-violence program B-SAFE at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in the city's South End.
It could have been stale, a follow-up to last year's coverage by the Globe and several other outlets on the popular young adult. It might have gone the martyr direction, focusing on Fuentes' transformation from troubled youth to standout worker. But with a nice blend of retrospective, detail and call to action, this feature stays true to its religious roots throughout while adding new insight to the as-yet-unsolved case.
The historical context of the program is highlighted through Fuentes' childhood:
A largely white denomination once dubbed “the Republican Party at prayer,” and more recently best known for its internal battles over gay bishops, the Episcopal Church has quietly increased its commitment to combating urban violence in Boston and nearby cities, a commitment that shaped Fuentes’s life.
The church has focused on prevention, embracing a simple philosophy: Begin with children as young as 5, give them help with homework, playtime, field trips, and cultural activities. Invite them, as they become teenagers, to work on community service projects and help with younger people. Then, as they reach adulthood, offer them a job and a chance to lead. Put children at the center of a caring community, the thinking goes, and they will be OK.
And it's defined further through the organic details of his tragic death:
His killing devastated the diocese, and it made gun violence a personal issue for people who might not have otherwise cared so much.
It also forced (St. Stephen's Rev. Tim) Crellin and the Rev. Liz Steinhauser, the priest associate and director of youth programs at St. Stephen’s, to wonder whether they had failed Jorge.
“This year has been the worst year of my life,” Crellin said. “I think it’s partly because I loved him so much and felt so close to him and miss him, and partly because [it shattered] your sense of efficacy and hope and belief in what you’re doing. . . .
“He was the poster child for the success of our programs and what we do,” he said. “That tragedy hit me in a really deep place and caused me to question everything.”
The story follows Crellin's struggle to make peace with himself about Fuentes' death and highlights last year's Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts convention, where a detailed response to city street violence was crafted. The initiative B-PEACE for Jorge was named in Fuentes' honor.
Kudos to Wangsness for a thorough telling of this story and for focusing on the denominational and church-led responses to a problem that plagues Boston (and other large cities).
Image of Jorge Fuentes via Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts