Tuesday evenings are reserved for my little religious education class. Generally, there are only five boys who attend. Each comes with a history: the son of a single addicted mother, the nephew who watched as his uncle was gunned down in the middle of the afternoon right in front of him, the illegal immigrant brothers who have moved from place to place, the son of an abusive father...
Each of these young men comes with baggage, more than I can help unpack in the few classes we share together. Learning is not easy for any of them. Two are learning disabled. All of them are failing one class or another. My little class comes with big challenges. I have been teaching this class for several years, and have seen young men come and go. For a good part of those years I tried desperately to fill their heads with knowledge about the Church, doctrine, the Scriptures, and so much more. Experience has taught me that these boys need knowledge much more fundamental.
Our classes, while orthodox in content, are unorthodox in structure: I pick the boys up, and we go "somewhere". One class we went to the Underground Railroad sites in Buffalo, and talked about slavery to sin. Another time we went to the Botanical Gardens and talked about the beauty of creation, and our place in it. Still another class was in the hospital looking at the little newborn babies in the nursery, wondering what their future held, and explaining the truth that God has a plan for each of us from the moment we are conceived. We even walked in the Naval and Servicemen's Park looking at the monuments, and talking about the duty of a man to his family, country and God. Once every couple of months we all go out to dinner and then some fun event, but the entire evening is a celebration of the life of one of them. Andre Day, Diego Day, Matthew Day, and many others over the years have helped us to see the dignity in each one of us. Not to mention the incredible amount of food teenaged boys can eat at a buffet...
Today's class was a little light in the attendance category...two brothers, one fifteen, one thirteen. They have been in my class for a few years, and I have a soft spot for them. This evening the oldest informed me that they are about to be deported back to their home country, Argentina. The fear and anxiety in his young face was heartbreaking. We drove in silence for a few minutes. Then class began to take shape.
I took them out for a pizza, and as we ate I asked them about their recollections of life in Argentina; since both were quite young when their parents brought them to the U.S., their memories were cloudy. Nonetheless, stories about grandparents, cousins, and friends began to flow. Camping trips and adventures with their father were shared (Diego and his dad are in the picture above, to the left and right of the cross), as were many laughs. I talked about my own family, and shared stories of my own.
After we finished eating I took them to meet my mother and father. It was a beautiful time; mom and dad were warm, welcoming, and shared funny stories and photographs. The boys really seemed to enjoy themselves. I took them to the yard and showed them the setting of many of the "tales" I have shared with them over the years, and they felt like they knew the place. It was just wonderful. As we were about to leave I shared their impending deportation with my father in private. Sometimes when we put a face on the illegal immigrants we have a change of heart. He was visibly shaken. We drove toward home in silence for a few minutes; then I reminded the boys that no matter where we live, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, the love of our family and the love of God is more important than anything else...more than houses, schools, cities, or even countries.
After dropping the boys off at home I prayed for their safety. I prayed that the family would remain together. I prayed that the Church would always be the glue that keeps them strong. I prayed that God would send consolations and grace for all of them. And I prayed for me. I am going to miss them very much.