Normally when I get The Catholic Voice, which is the Diocese of Oakland's newsletter, in the mail, I quickly take it out of the building's communal large mail bin, because I think it wigs my neighbors out to have evidence that an actual practicing Catholic in the building. I know I'm a pretty paranoid person, but I always fear that my neighbors think I'm some kind of gay-hating, Opus Dei-praising, generally objectionable stereotype-Catholic because I get this newsletter in the mail, so I get it out of the bin as quickly as I can and shiftily schlep it upstairs.
Usually I flip through it immediately, determine that nothing insane's happened, like Cardinal Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) declaring a crusade, and then drop it in the recycling. The standard fare is pretty tame: Catholic schools celebrating 50 years, nuns protesting for peace, parishes having spaghetti suppers.
This time, when I stole up to my apartment with my shameful rag o' Popery, I was greeted with an odd feeling that The Catholic Voice had done a special Onion issue.
'Homies' find their priest online.
"Homies?" I thought. "Did the Catholic Voice just use the word 'homies'? Is that allowed? And... WTF? Is this for real?
As this un-media-savvy Catholic later determined, "homies" here referred to a series of characters created by David Gonzalez, which appear in a comic strip, as figurines, and on other random merchandise. According to the Homies website (www.homies.tv), "The Homies are a group of tightly knit Chicano buddies who have grown up in the Mexican American barrio ( neighborhood ) of "Quien Sabe", ( who knows ) located in East Los Angeles."
One of these homies is El Padrecito, a priest character who sort of looks like a black Friar Tuck in shades.
And now, he's online.
Apparently, David Gonzalez has a brother who's, well, a brother. Or rather, a Conventual Franciscan priest. "El Padrecito" is based on Fr. Masseo Gonzalez, who was given the nickname by his parish community. A link from the Homies website brings you to El Padrecito's website, www.elpadrecito.com, where Fr. Gonzalez runs a sort of Dear Abby column for at-risk urban youth. Urban youth with internet access, natürlich.
Emblazoned with a picture of El Padrecito, a Virgin of Guadalupe, and the slogan "A Consejo a Day Keeps the Devil Away!", elPadrecito.com features an advice column ("Consejos"), a message board (categorized as "Prayers"), and, chillingly, a section called "R.I.P.s."
The site is clearly aimed at Latino youth, as El Padrecito's advice is liberally sprinkled with Spanish and what looks to be slang, although it's often slang I've never heard. There's something slightly ridiculous about a priest in his forties signing his letters with "Laterz," but it must work for somebody, as he seems to get a lot of feedback.
The message board buzzes with nearly unreadable posts, mainly from teenaged girls who are concerned with dating, sex, gangs, and parents (abusive or otherwise). One poster is afraid she might be pregnant, having just lost her virginity, and is furthermore afraid that all the rumors that there were about her being a "hoe" are now true. Another fears her jealous and potentially violent boyfriend. In one heartbreaking post, a forty-six-year-old father addresses what is clearly an online community of primarily teenaged girls to ask for prayers and advice regarding his twenty-year-old daughter who is involved in a dangerous gang. The girls respond across the generation gap with sympathy and suggestions, but also with a certain terrifying bleakness. "Tell her not 2 talk 2 ANY of her gang friends cuz thats the mistake my cousin made n then his so called friend found out where he stayed n shot up the place," writes one respondant. Another writes, "ur story is like my Aunt's ... all i can say is Ill pray for u and ur daughter and I hope ur Daughter dosent get hurt."
El Padrecito's advice tends to be what you might expect from a priest -- if the question is "Should I tell my parents about (wildly foolish thing I've been doing)?", his answer is yes. If the problem is that a writer's father is beating her, he urgently recommends Child Protective Services. And in any situation, he advocates prayer.
So I'm not sure how I feel about El Padrecito. It does seems a little ridiculous, especially with the clearly planted slang -- is Buddy Christ next? On the other hand, maybe it helps some kids be more reflective, which is probably a good idea for any teenager. Sanctimonious bourgeois uplift, embarrassing absurdity, or God's work? Who's to say?
Only one thing's for sure:
A Consejo a Day Keeps the Devil Away.
- Barbara Erickson, " 'Homies' find their priest online,"The Catholic Voice 43:13 (July 4, 2005) 1, 9.
- Padrecito: Father (diminutive form)
- Consejo: a piece of advice
Maybe I should post the article on my apartment door, to show my neighbors just how awesome and full of useful news tidbits The Catholic Voice really is...