By Anna Hamilton
Ash Wednesday is one of the most well attended services each year in the Catholic Church. A symbol of our faith in the form of a cross is marked on the forehead with ashes from the palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday.
It reminds us “we are dust, and to dust shall we return.” These words call for repentance, inviting us to turn away from our sins, to commit ourselves to a personal change, and to build a relationship with God.
This year the Diocese of San Bernardino had the opportunity to minister this message of hope with the young men of Boys Republic, a private, nonprofit, nonsectarian school and treatment community for troubled youth located in Chino Hills. Since its founding in 1907, it has guided more than 30,000 at-risk teenage boys and girls toward productive, fulfilling lives.
Approximately 25 young men between the ages of 14-17 came to celebrate Ash Wednesday Liturgy with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rutilio del Riego on February 10. Bishop del Riego offered words of encouragement to the young men to discover God in their lives and use the opportunity of the Lenten Season to start with themselves and to make real lifestyle changes in their hearts and with their families.
Additionally, nearly all the boys took time to meet with the Bishop del Riego in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Several of the boys took time to prepare themselves spiritually, mentally, and physically. Some of the boys took part as lectors in the celebration. Pablo Alvarez, a volunteer leader at Boys Republic, meets with the boys every Wednesday evening to offer bible study and guidance. For this celebration, he invited Youth and Young Adult leaders from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Chino Hills to lead the music for the Liturgy.
When asked what they were looking forward to most about the Mass, one young man responded that he missed going to church. Another was excited to read since he had a little bit of training at his previous parish. Others were very honest that they might not change right away but they would consider making changes if it would help get a job in the future. Overall, these young men came with great enthusiasm and smiles which were infectious. They were also joined by adult counselors on staff and family members who shared in the Liturgy. Bishop del Riego enjoyed the interaction with the youth and said he hopes to return again soon. We must reach out to those who are struggling and help guide them to the Lord, Bishop del Riego added.
The boys who live at Boys Republic learn behavioral skills that will help them prepare for their future. They host an annual Car Show, sell Christmas wreaths and baked goods each year to help raise funds for the school and they keep active by attending classes, playing sports, and learning vocational skills such as, baking, landscaping, masonry skills, and shop. They also participate in student government as a way of learning responsibility and helping keep all the boys accountable for their actions. Their motto is “Nothing without Labor.” Every effort is made at rehabilitation and helping these young men to achieve greatness.
Anna Hamilton is the Associate Director of the Office of Restorative Justice in the Diocese of San Bernardino.