Budding priest calls troubled Mexican youth to 'Gang of Christ'

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Aspiring priest reaches out to gang members
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Aspiring priest reaches out to gang members
An aspiring Catholic priests Jose Luis Guerra (L) and Jose Luis Fernandez, members of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, bless young men during a visit to a neighbourhood in the municipality of Garcia, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jaziel and Plasma, both attending the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, tour a flea market in the municipality of Juarez, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A barber gives a haircut to a young man, both attending the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, at a barbershop in the municipality of Juarez, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Daniel, who attends the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, sits on his bed in Escobedo, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Daniel, who attends the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, walks near his home in Escobedo, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Armando Lucero, member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, bows his head while praying during a visit to a neighbourhood in the municipality of Garcia, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, blesses a woman with diabetes at her home in Monterrey, Mexico, July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, and other missionaries hand out a Bible to Angel Castillo, who wants to become a missionary with Raza Nueva, in the municipality of Garcia, outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Catholic priest Jose Luis Fernandez, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, blesses a young woman during a visit to a neighbourhood in the municipality of Garcia, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Members of Raza Nueva in Christ (rear), a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, arrive to a neighbourhood to talk to people in the municipality of Juarez, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, May 30, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra (C), a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, walks along missionaries during a visit to a neighbourhood in the municipality of Guadalupe, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, May 30, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Daniel, who attends the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, poses for a picture to show a scar on his face, at his home in Escobedo, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Young people, who attend the meetings of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, spend time at a park in the municipality of Juarez, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra (C), a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, prays before having a breakfast with seminarians, offered by elderly Catholic faithfuls, in Monterrey, Mexico, July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, drives his car towards a neighbourhood in the municipality of Garcia, in Monterrey, Mexico, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, talks to Angel Castillo, who wants to become a missionary with Raza Nueva, in the municipality of Garcia, outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, prays with residents while blessing their house, in Monterrey, Mexico, June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, blesses young people during a visit to a neighbourhood in the municipality of Juarez, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, May 30, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, talks to Angel Castillo, who wants to become a missionary with Raza Nueva, in the municipality of Garcia, outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, checks shoes at a second hand shop, in Monterrey, Mexico, July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Young people listen to members of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, during a visit to a neighbourhood in the municipality of Juarez, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, May 30, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril SEARCH "CHRIST GANG" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
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MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - On the troubled fringes of the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, an aspiring Catholic priest is using his faith to reach out to young gang members and at-risk youth and bring them into his "Gang of Christ."

Less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the U.S. border, Monterrey is a wealthy city of corporate trailblazers. But violence is never far away on the outskirts, where bricklayers and factory workers walk poorly lit streets to reach simple cinder-block homes.

Jose Luis Guerra, 34, also walks those pathways, searching for young gang members who might listen to his message.

It is a risky vocation: although violence in Monterrey has fallen from the bloody peaks of 2011, an unknown man pacing the streets after dark still risks being seen as a threat.

"My alba is my shield," Guerra says, referring to his white religious robes.

Sometimes seen in his Superman-logo baseball cap, Guerra is a deacon, and will be ordained as a priest in mid-August.

Guerra bumps fists with the young boys and girls he meets, and when he talks to them, he sounds more like a psychologist than a priest. Given to cracking jokes, he says of his considerable girth: "It just means that I am full of love."

Often he visits the back streets with some of his 15 fellow missionaries, two-thirds of whom are ex-gang members themselves.

Becoming a missionary means renouncing not necessarily the gang, but acts that Guerra says devalue people as human beings: theft, assault, insult and, in some cases, murder.

This is followed by three days at 'camp' where candidates must reflect on their lives and commitment to Christ; then, seven weeks at missionary school and finally, upon graduation, a party complete with cumbia dance music.

The official ceremony takes place in a public square, where Guerra explains the responsibilities that come with the job, then presents a Bible to the kneeling subjects.

A few weeks must pass before the newly minted missionaries can begin visiting neighborhoods. First Guerra and the others must tell local gangs the new recruits are no longer their enemies. Instead, he says, they are now members of the "Gang of Christ."

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