Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and Mayor Martin J. Walsh made a plea for peace and unity in 2018 as they addressed a Cape Verdean church congregation Sunday, citing recent fatal violence in Dorchester’s Bowdoin-Geneva section amid a spike in the number of Boston teens killed.
“We hold up in prayer those who have lost their lives in violence in our neighborhoods,” O’Malley said during a brief message in English before delivering more than 10 minutes of his homily in Portuguese at an Epiphany Mass at St. Peter’s Parish on Bowdoin Street, in the center of Boston’s Cape Verdean community.
“An important antidote to violence is solidarity and family life,” he said in English. “We must help people to know that we are not alone. Our churches have an important role to play as we try to help people feel welcome, appreciated. It is faith that allows us to discover the value of things. That human beings — made in the image and likeness of God — are more important than money.”
O’Malley announced at the Mass that police are sending six officers to visit Cape Verde “to get to know the culture and the people, [which] will help them to be better police officers here in Boston.”
Even as violent crimes declined by 7 percent overall in 2017, according to Boston police, there was a small increase in homicides, but also, in a troubling development, the number of teens killed on the city’s streets doubled — to 16.
A teen was killed in one of two fatal shootings on Bowdoin Street last month.
On Dec. 1, 30-year-old Natalino Gomes died almost immediately after he was shot inside Peguero’s Market, where he worked. Then, on Dec. 19, Philip Demings, 19, of Weymouth, was shot multiple times and pronounced dead near 344 Bowdoin St. Jaquan X. Shepard, 20, of Lynn, was arrested Jan. 2 and charged in Demings’s killing, police said.
Walsh wanted to talk to the teens in the pews “directly about violence, and about life, and what’s important,” he said in an interview after the Mass. Walsh said he doesn’t believe any child wakes up with an intent to harm others, but teens can get caught “in a culture of revenge” that leads to violence and retribution.
Addressing the congregation during Mass, Walsh asked young people to help spread a message to their peers who were not in church Sunday about “the importance of your life and the fragile nature of your life.”
“You are the future of Boston, but you’re also the people that we’re going to look to, to help us stop the violence,” he said. “Because the young people that are killing each other are 16, 17, and 18 years old. . . . We need you to help us. I need you to bring a message to the other young people in the city to let them know that there is hope.”
Present to support that message were Boston police Commissioner William B. Evans, Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross, and other top department officials.
Gross said the department’s 10-day trip to Cape Verde, which begins Saturday, will include two officers of Cape Verdean heritage, who will serve as guides for himself and the other three officers as they meet with local officials “to share best practices moving forward — what can we do to help? It’s going to be a learning environment for both Boston and the islands of Cabo Verde.”
João DePina, a Cape Verdean immigrant who lost a brother to violence in 2014 and ran unsuccessfully last year for Boston City Council, said he “was very moved by the cardinal — that’s why I came. . . . It was a religious day for me as a Catholic.”
He was glad the mayor and police officials attended, he said, but they “need to understand that our community doesn’t just need your presence here. We need the department to solve a lot of these unsolved murders.” DePina, whose brother’s killer has never been caught, said support from the city and the archdiocese could have come sooner.
“They could have been doing this a long time ago,” he said.
Responding to the criticism, O’Malley said he has participated in peace marches in Bowdoin-Geneva and tried to attend funerals of those lost to street violence. “I’m very proud of the presence of our priests here in this community who are very active, and very visible, and very committed to helping to bring healing and peace here,” the cardinal said.
Gross, whose first permanent assignment on the police force was in Dorchester in 1985, said many families in the neighborhood lack resources.
“Those are the families we need to help,” he said, “so the children of those families don’t go outside of that family and be susceptible to predators: the leaders of gangs, drug dealers, human traffickers.”