We met in jail

Couple offers hope to Latino youth

Arturo Perez and family

When people ask us how we met, we always answer, “We met in jail.” I met my wife, Mary, while we were both working as chaplains at the juvenile detention center in San Antonio, Texas. As Mary says, “We both felt a tremendous burden in our hearts for our Latino youth who were the majority of youth incarcerated in our city.”

At the detention center we met young people who felt completely alone in this world. They turned to drugs to numb the pain of loneliness and to gangs to give them a sense of belonging. We felt called to work together as friends with these young people especially after they left the jail.

Some of the youth had very powerful and inspiring conversion experiences while they were incarcerated, but there was no one willing to walk with them once they left the detention center. So we decided to create a community where at-risk youth and their families could experience healing and empowerment.

In 1992 we established a nonprofit, community-based organization called JOVEN that reaches out to youth who are at risk of school failure, drug abuse, and gang involvement. Fourteen years later it continues to serve hundreds of youth in the San Antonio area and provides them with the social services and support they need to stay in school and resist the lure of gangs, drugs, and the lifestyles to which these lead.

We also developed a culturally vibrant curriculum for Latino youth leadership formation called RESPETO that is being promoted by the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio.

Somehow, in the midst of all our projects, we found time to marry in the fall of 1992. We knew that the call to minister to youth was part of a greater call to the vocation of marriage.

We have now been married for 14 years and are raising two beautiful girls, Angelica, 9, and Graciela, 13. We firmly believe that God brought us together to love each other deeply, and from this love, to offer our gifts and talents to the church in her mission to be the presence of Jesus in the world today.

Your turn

  • What has inspired you, or inspires you to get into action and serve others?
  • Are you willing to walk with those who are in need?

Good heir

It was the Middle Ages. Peter Nolasco, a wealthy Frenchman, had given his money away and moved to Spain because he was being persecuted for being Catholic. It was possible then to pay a ransom to rescue a prisoner taken during a battle. Peter used the rest of his inheritance to pay the ransom of hundreds of Christian prisoners. He founded the order of Our Lady of Mercy (Mercedarians). His generosity gave freedom to many and saved them from an uncertain future.

How can you help those who find themselves in difficult situations?

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