Christs of the palm – stories of young people seeking the Living God


A layperson who works alongside our Sisters in Colombia speaks of their experience with a group of disadvantaged young people. An experience that unveiled the « Christ » behind each face.


The call of some young people from the Puerto Mallarino neighborhood in Cali, Colombia, to share their lives, to pray and read the Word of God together, or simply to eat and relax together, led to an experience of social and pastoral work with the young in Our Lady of the Assumption Parish from 2018 to 2020. This experience brought about a great recognition on their part and an opening as a local Catholic Church. Committed lay worker, Diego Duque, tells us how these meetings brought them « closer to God ». The group was baptizedCristos de la palma”(Christs of the palm), and was different from a group of teenagers in a youth group. The life stories of the group members came from the street, stories of consumption, and episodes of delinquency.


We recognize you, Lord


Every meeting with them was an occasion for recognizing a “Christ” behind their faces, their appearance, their street slang, their tattoos, and their scars. It meant “lowering ourselves” to the level of their daily life in order to understand them, without necessarily saying that we agreed with some of their actions. It meant silencing our judgments and replacing them with words and merciful correction. This can be a hard process because of our complex human reality and social labels.


“Come and see”


Seven to ten young people met together, thanks to the insistence of committed Sisters Herminda and Isemane, and to their charism that is open to the pastoral needs in this context. It was also thanks to the work of Angela and Karime, committed laywomen and teachers, who generated a closeness in the group. Together with Father Rafael Lopera, they responded to so many calls that it became physically and emotionally wearing. However it was worth the wait; the young people arrived little by little at the meetings, full of excuses, but they arrived.


These meetings taught us not to go at our pace but at theirs. As young people who do not easily follow the norm, they had their own pace. Nor were the meetings intended to be resocialization workshops, they were meetings of faith. Each meeting was a slow falling in love with JESUS, the living Word. It was not a case of what we could give but of what we could take from their reflections and follies. Leading them to recognize that they were valuable to God was the central axis of this process, recognizing HUMAN DIGNITY in them and in their families.



They are always welcome


Working with young people takes time, they advance little by little and some are more stable than others. Some expect something from the Church and ask for work or a market. There are different expectations, as in every human relationship. In this case, it was partly like that. All of them, however, put in the time for Jesus whether at a meeting, a sharing, or the final retreat. They could “be themselves” with us and with Jesus. They followed two vocational training programs with the Colombian National Training Service. They participated in a Holy Thursday celebration and that was the great seal of their Catholic faith. They felt loved in the sacramental gesture of the washing of the feet.


However, there was a lack of resources to support this initiative. Lay people and religious understood that it was not easy and that they, and we, needed reflection, methodology, and space. The lack of commitment and sometimes the manipulation needed to carry out activities came to the fore. Perseverance and patience are gifts that all of those involved need to ask for. All the same, the truth is that this pastoral experiment was, is, and will be a valuable and necessary opportunity to continue discovering more « young Christs” standing on neighborhood corners, seeking to get closer to God.


Leonardo Valencia.

Social worker and committed layperson.


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