A Publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland  
Catholic Voice Online Edition  
Front Page In this Issue Around the Diocese Letters Bishop's Column News in Brief Calendar
Mission Statement
Contact Us
Publication Dates
Back Issues

CURRENT ISSUE:  July 4, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 13Oakland, CA

‘Homies’ find their priest online

They write to El Padrecito with the problems of their young lives, sending tearful pleas for help into cyberspace. What to do about an errant boyfriend? An unwanted pregnancy? A father who drinks too much?

Father Masseo Gonzales, a Conventual Franciscan at St. Paul Parish in San Pablo, reads their appeals on his website and is touched by their needs and faith. He, too, was once a young Chicano growing up in the barrio, and he responds with compassion and in words they understand.

Some of them also know Father Gonzales as the “homie” El Padrecito in his brother David’s collection of barrio characters, which appear in books, cartoon strips and packets of figurines and are selling well among young urban Chicanos. He is the model for the barrio priest, found among the homeboys, homegirls, lowriders and other denizens of the inner city.

David’s virtual homie neighborhood was already receiving national attention when Father Gonzales began to work with him on the character of El Padrecito. “With input from me, the character was born,” he said, a caricature of the priest. “He has dark glasses, he’s short and he has my nose.”

El Padrecito also wears Franciscan robes like Father Gonzales, and he inspired the website that now helps so many young Chicanos. “With the advent of the internet,” the priest said, “it made perfect sense to me to somehow bring the two together. So I figured, why not create an online ministry via El Padrecito?”

Father Gonzales was ready for this task. He had a degree in Chicano studies, formal training in computer operations and a master’s in theology and cross-cultural studies, as well as his own experience growing up in the barrio of Richmond.

Robert Gonzales (he took Masseo as his religious name) was born in 1961 into a family of five sons and three daughters and attended local Catholic schools, but he was “a defiant kid” who got in trouble with the law, dropped out of school and joined the federal Job Corps program for at-risk youth.

There he breezed through the GED and was learning vocational skills when he “went out drinking and partying, landed up getting into a large fight and was struck by an automobile and pinned between two cars.”

He lost the lower portion of his right leg, ending his career with the Job Corps. It was “somewhat devastating,” Father Gonzales said, but he had been “raised by my father and mother to be a survivor. If you get knocked down, you have to find a way to get back up.”

Gonzales began to take classes in computer science and learned enough to land a job with a banking institution. It was then that “the inspiration for a vocation somehow got into my head and into my soul,” he said.

He was attending Mass at St. Paul’s on weekends and came under the
influence of Father Allen Ramirez, the pastor and a Conventual Franciscan. “He was probably one of the first Mexican American priests I had known in my life,” Father Gonzales said, and before long he was following in the priest’s footsteps.

He entered the Conventual Franciscan candidacy program in 1985 and began to apply himself to studies for the first time in his life, taking classes at Cal State Poly in Pomona and winning a full scholarship to Pitzer College in Claremont. In college he found a mentor in Professor Gilbert Cadena who helped him “bring together sociology and my Catholic faith.”

Gonzales was chosen as principal speaker at the Pitzer graduation and went on to master’s studies at Washington Theological Union. It was during his college years that he learned Spanish – in addition to the Chicano lingo of his youth – beginning in Spain and going on to Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rico as part of his formation.

He was ordained at St. Paul’s in 1996 by now retired Archbishop Patricio Flores of San Antonio with all of his family in attendance. There was folklorico dancing, he said, “a lot of food, a lot of beer. It was a great celebration.”

His first assignment was teaching in a Torrance high school where most of the students were upper class and Anglo, but he knew his true mission was elsewhere. On the eve of his departure for religious life he had already felt the call to work with inner-city youth.

“I assisted with a boxing program here in Richmond,” Father Gonzales said. “I remember the night I had to leave, sitting in my car in front of the teen center and breaking down crying a bit because I knew there was an interior vocation working with youth.”

In 1999, after working in formation with candidates to his order and in a Riverside parish, he and his brother developed the character El Padrecito, and Father Gonzales began his online ministry.

“I created my own website,” he said, “using user friendly software, and initially I was interacting with the youth through individual emails. They would write me asking for prayers, asking me for advice, and I would respond to them.” Many came through his brother’s homie website, which has a link to elpadrecito.com.

But before long, he had to drop his individual contacts with the youth.
“My time was too consumed with being an associate pastor here at St. Paul’s,” he said, and there was also the danger that giving advice one-on-one would cause problems in the climate of suspicion surrounding the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Now he uses a “Dear Abby model,” choosing a few requests and publishing his answers online “where everybody can benefit from the question.” He manages to answer about three percent of the queries. The rest are posted in the chat room, where the 8,500 signed members of the site can exchange advice and comments.

Most of the writers are Latinas and most of their questions concern dating. They speak of sexual relations, abortion, parent-child communication, gang life, drugs and more. “It all comes together on my site,” he said. “It’s a heavy duty site dealing with real life issues, yet incorporating solid Catholic principles.”

Sometimes the language is rough, he said, but he has to accept that. “If I didn’t allow for certain vulgar language, I would probably have lost a few souls by now.” And when the writers go too far, the youth often take care of it themselves.

One writer recently posted inflammatory gang taunts, Father Gonzales said, and “a young girl who has lost friends to gangs, who has seen a lot of violence, came straight out and told the guy to stop this talk.”

The website members “know the violence and death and insanity of what’s going on,” he said, and they also show respect for the site with its traditional religious imagery as backdrops.

Money from his brother’s Homie Shop has helped keep the site afloat,
and he has plans for expanding his ministry to provide a record label for young rappers. “I want to start promoting some of our youth who are gifted with the ability to rap,” he said. He also hopes to begin a ministry to youth in prisons.

“I’m primarily concerned with the poor urban community,” Father
Gonzales said, “whether it be poor black or Latino or poor white.”
At the end of August he will leave St. Paul to take up residence somewhere on the central coast of California, and he said, “If things go according to plan, I ought to have much more time to invest in El Padrecito ministries.”

To Father Gonzales, this work is “like a dream come true. I’m like a little child, I absolutely love it,” and although the mail he receives may move him to tears, he has “no doubt miracles are happening, blessings are happening. I have no doubt.”


Where Can I Take My Father?
Dear Padrecito:
“There is never a day that goes by when my father isn’t drinking. He has already had a bad accident which almost took his life. I’m really afraid for him. Even my mother who is separated from him is afraid for him. My brothers are also worried. Is there anywhere I can take my dad for help?”
La Guerita

Dear Guerita:
“Sorry to hear you’re going through this drama Guerita. I’m sure there are a lot of homegirls who can identify with your pain.

As much as you love your father, Mija, you cannot FIX him. Your padre está enfermo y alcoholismo es una enfermedad. Tampoco no tienes la abilidad a curarlo. (Your father is sick and alcoholism is a sickness. Nor do you have the ability to cure him.) Until your father is willing to accept help you are limited as to what you can do.

But there is something you can do for yourself. Al-Anon is an EXCELLENT resource (you should be able to find a meeting close to your home by visiting their website.) You’ll learn at Al-Anon how to not lose your own sanity and peace of mind while living with an alcoholic. And the amazing thing is the more YOU take care of YOURSELF the better the chances of your father getting better!

We are all sorry your padre is out of control Guerita. And I’m sure you are hurting right now. But please realize that you are as powerless over your father as he is over that drink. The one thing you are not powerless over, however, is your own peace of mind.”
Al rato,
El Padrecito

My Sixth-Grade Dream
Dear Padrecito:
“Shit, estoy embarazada otraz vez. (I am pregnant again.)

The first time I got pregnant I was only eighteen-years-old. My boyfriend told me ‘you can’t get pregnant the first time’. Well, it wasn’t true. Out came Isaac on April 27th, 2004.

Anywayz, I had been saving my money up since 6th grade so I could go visit my ‘G’ (friend) in Korea. I have always dreamed of traveling the world. I was even willing to join the army just so I could visit other countries.

So after investing all my savings on raising Isaac, and having sex with my new boyfriend, I get pregnant again. (The father of my first child eventually went to jail for murder. I caught the second boyfriend having another girl on the side and so I dropped him.)

So no traveling the world, no boyfriend, no father to my children, and got two kids. Now what Padrecito?!”

Dear Flaquita:
“Dang girl.... this story almost made me want to cry!

It’s going to be okay mija. You know that little girl in the sixth grade, who was courageous enough to dream of traveling the world, and thrifty enough to start saving her money since sixth grade? Well she’s still within you!

First thing to do, take care of those two children. If you follow the ways of God, these two children will bring more joy to you than visiting any country in the world! (Have you baptized your child? And if not, why not? It’s easy, just visit your local Catholic church and follow directions. This will also get your more involved in your faith.)

Second thing you can do, start reaching out for some love (and not to another young vato!). Involve yourself in a bible study, prayer group at church, something to stimulate your soul and bring some positive fellowship in your life.

Third, start budgeting your money again and get focused back on that dream you had! As I indicated, you still have that little girl within you, so let her shine! There’s no reason why you can’t be a good mother and still fulfill your dreams of traveling. As a matter of fact - you can now share the joy of traveling with your children! Con la ayuda de Dios, de su propia fuerza, y de la ayuda de los demas, ¿porqué no se puede realizar sus sueños todavía? ¡Todavía eres joven!” (With the help of God, your own strength and the help of others, why can’t you still realize your dreams? You are still young!)
Al rato,
El Padrecito


Father Masseo Gonzales of St. Paul Parish in San Pablo uses his brother’s “homie” character El Padrecito as the backdrop for his online ministry to troubled Latino youth.

El Padrecito


Homies creator David Gonzales autographs posters during a festival at St. Paul Parish in San Pablo.











































Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland

El Heraldo

Movie Reviews

Mass Times

Catholic Voice


Next Front Page Article

back to topup arrow


Copyright © 2007 The Catholic Voice, All Rights Reserved. Site design by Sarah Kalmon-Bauer.