By Kevin Wells
I was blowing leaves over the weekend and didn’t hear the missionary priest’s 48-second phone message. I’ll never forget it.
A boy told me that men killed his father and a week later killed his mother. He said a week after his dad was killed that he went into the house and a man was there with a backpack. Mom looked at him and said, “Go Play.” Typical boy just went back outside. Five hours later his older brother ran up to him and screamed, “It’s all your fault, it’s all your fault – they killed mom, too, because of you.” So the boy ran back to the house crying and there was his mother covered in blood. He couldn’t touch her because he was terrified. And for ten years he never told a single person – until just a few minutes ago when he told me outside of the confessional. He felt the guilt of his mother’s blood because he played outside.
Then he said, “Father, I’m afraid because I want to leave and find the men. And I am going to kill them.
Then we tried to separate ‘shame’ from ‘anger.’
Both parents were alcoholics. I said to him, “You cannot drink.’
He said he will try – and that is beautiful. Because I know he will try.”
It was the same teenage boy who later in the week entered Fr. Dan Leary’s confessional at the Sisters of Mary’s Boystown in Honduras. The American-born priest heard twelve hours of confessions that day. Over and over, he took in the brokenhearted stories of haunted souls. Another boy told the priest he watched two men shoot his father three times in the head. Thereafter, the deceased man was unrecognizable.
In his nineteen months as Chaplain for 20,000 teenagers at the Sisters of Mary World Villages for Children communities, Fr. Dan has heard confessions and spiritually directed thousands of once-bullied children. For him, his time with them has become like hunting expeditions, where he is forced to navigate through layers of terror, repressed memory, and thick scabs of hatred and cynicism to finally hold up what he’s begun to call the point of difference. To Fr. Dan, this hinge point – the day, hour, and moment an innocent soul was corrupted by evil – has become one of the most important parts of his ministry.
“It is that moment of shock and pain I try to get to. Always before that moment of devastation, a child carries no guilt or shame, but suddenly, because of the incident, he has a new image of himself,” Fr. Dan said. “The boy who never whispered a word of his guilt from his mom’s murder needed to know it wasn’t his fault. His older brother told him a lie. And he felt dirty and undignified because he listened to the Father of Lies for all these years. And kept quiet due to his shame.
“I needed to show him – and all kids who suffer from these types of pains – the dignity they have through the eyes of Jesus Christ. I may have been the first person ever to tell this boy that I was proud of him. When I asked him not to drink and showed the difference between anger and shame, he needed to see that I am with him in his fight.”
Fr. Dan has learned that a numberless amount of Boystowns and Grilstowns teenagers have hidden indescribable traumas from their parents. This Christmas break, Fr. Dan has encouraged them to bring blessed water home and to anoint one or both parents before telling them the stories of their pain. He knows the release of their long-held secrets and shame will be healing and new life for their soul.
“I want these kids to go home to help heal their families – but it takes courage to heal one’s family through their own wounds,” Fr. Dan said. “But when they finally say, “ ‘Mom, I have something to tell you’ … well, then they own it, and it finally goes away. It is then that God begins to finally begin to fill the child with His graces of healing.”