The high school youth group of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, the Bronx, led a Memorial Vigil Against Gang Violence at the church in response to the murder of 15-year-old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, who was stabbed in late June reportedly by a gang who had intended a different victim.
Eleven young men have been arrested and charged in the case; a 12th is awaiting extradition in Connecticut.
Lesandro, who was affectionately known as Junior, was not a gang member and aspired to be a detective.
Father Jonathan Morris, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, told CNY that the July 1 service led by the youth group Rooted was “a way to bring the community together to say no to gang violence and to say no to gang life, and to encourage young people to say yes to everything that is positive in life, beginning with God’s love for them and love of each other.”
Approximately 400 attended the Sunday evening service. The congregation included youths from other faith traditions, Christian and non-Christian alike.
The youth-led service was a relatable forum for their age group. The service offered a range of music, from organ to guitar, performed by youth and intended to “inspire people toward commitment to life and purpose and mission over death and darkness of gang life,” Father Morris said.
“What is it that attracts youths to gang life? They’re looking for meaning in their life, and purpose and community,” Father Morris said. “That community is community of people of similar age and similar backgrounds. It’s important for our youth who have found meaning and purpose in the person of Jesus Christ and His Church, to be able to trade community with other youth around that meaning.
“Certainly the youth need leadership from their pastors and others, but, in the end, it has to be youth ministering to youth, in this way,” Father Morris said.
On June 20 at 11:40 p.m., police responded to a 911 call of an assault in progress in front of a bodega at 526 E. 183rd St. in the Bronx. Upon arrival, officers were informed that Lesandro was involved in a dispute with a group of males in front of the location, before being stabbed in the neck. The suspects fled and Lesandro ran to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he died.
A Funeral Mass offered June 27 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church drew about 800. The principal celebrant and homilist was Father David Guzman, M.X.Y., a parochial vicar of Our Saviour parish, the Bronx, who had baptized Lesandro as a baby.
Father Morris was among the concelebrants. Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Walsh presided. Burial was at St. Raymond’s Cemetery, the Bronx.
The New York City Police Foundation has established a new scholarship that will honor Lesandro, who was part of the NYPD Law Enforcement Explorers. The Explorers program offers young men and women from the city’s diverse communities an introduction to a career in law enforcement or a related field in the criminal justice system.
The New York City Police Foundation Lesandro Guzman-Feliz Memorial College Fund will annually provide two NYPD Explorer high school graduates up to $5,000 each in reimbursement of tuition and school supplies upon enrollment in an accredited school.
“There is no better way to honor a young man whose stated dream was to become one of the greatest detectives in the world than by establishing a memorial scholarship in his honor,” said New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill.
“The people we serve, in every corner of New York City, will surely be the largest beneficiaries in all of this.”