The Juan Diegos of today

By Sandra Navarro

Education is a passion and calling for Jesús Ábrego. In fact, he came to United States from his native Monterrey with the intention of learning English and returning to Mexico, where he could have a promising future; but he saw the educational needs around him and had to respond. God had another plan for him and he stayed in Beaumont, Texas to work in youth ministry. Today he is the director of Hispanic Ministry in the diocese.

“One of the greatest challenges with youth in this area is that their parents don’t understand the reality in which their children are developing. In their mind, they are still living in a country that no longer exists and they haven’t or don’t want to recognize that they are living in United States,” Ábrego says. In response to this and other realities, he has launched a series of educational initiatives for young people and the whole family. Each year, he gathers more than 1,000 in a conference on parent-and-children relationships. In youth ministry, he has three programs of faith formation, two of which he developed.

The first, Despertar (Awaken), is a two-day retreat for youth between 12 and 14 years, which helps them form healthy interpersonal relationships and increase their ability to make friends. “This program was developed as a means of prevention. Many times parents ignore what their children are doing, whether they use drugs regularly or are sexually active. The lack of participation and communication of parents in the education of their children is a detonating factor of these situations,” Ábrego explains.

Another program, Búsqueda (Search) is for youth 15 to 18 years. The program touches on tough issues that concern young people, but they are afraid to speak about them in the context of the church. Lastly, Encuentro (Encounter) is a retreat for young adults about commitment, taking responsibility for their own lives. “Young people are invited to repair the damage and wounds of the past, to confront them and move forward. It is a beautiful movement with a very Latin American spirituality.”

The Beaumont community has changed a lot, but Ábrego´s passion for education, although it takes new forms, is still there. “Now I work with the children of the young people who were in my first group. They are young Latin Americans who think in English and cry in Spanish,” he comments. “And this phrase is not mine; this is what they say.”

The fruits of all these efforts to form leaders can already be seen. When they began, participants were migrants with a low education level and now they are professionals. He insists repeatedly on the need for education.

“I tell my young people that they are the new Juan Diegos, the Juan Diegos of today,” Ábrego says. “Our young people are the ones who will evangelize the Church and we must give them the resources needed to become the light of Christ in their communities. If we don’t do this in their language and from their reality, they are not going to do it; and the result will be our responsibility.”

Your turn

How can you improve your relationship with your parents and other adults in your life?
What would you ask them? How important is education for you?

 

Celebrating 10 years of service to Hispanic youth!

 

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