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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 21, 2007VOL. 45, NO. 10Oakland, CA

Hiz-Kidz debuts in San Pablo

Arturo Cruz, a member of Hiz-Kidz, performs during a Cinco de Mayo festival at St. Paul Parish in San Pablo.
GREG TARCZYNSKI PHOTO

 

Hiz-Kidz members rehearse before their debut performance, May 5.
JOSE LUIS AGUIRRE PHOTO

 

During a recent rehearsal, Father Masseo Gonzales leads a rap song he wrote for Hiz-Kidz.
JOSE LUIS AGUIRRE PHOTO

For many people, music rap has negative connotations because of its lyrics, but for the youth group at St. Paul Parish in San Pablo rap has become a new form of evangelization.

Thanks to the initiative of Conventual Franciscan Father Masseo Gonzales, the teens have discovered rap from the Catholic perspective.

Two months ago the priest, known as “El Padrecito” from the collection of “Homies” his brother developed and marketed in books, comic strips and plastic figures, decided to create Hiz-Kidz, a group of 20 young people between 14 and 19 years old. The title comes from urban slang. “It is a game of words,” said Father Gonzales. “’Hiz’ means both God and Hispanics.”

According to El Padrecito, who has a website offering advice to young Hispanics, (www.elpadrecito.com) the internet is wonderful, “but the power of music, dance, the arts and performance is much bigger and there is a lot of potential out there.”

“I really believe that we must do something very creative to keep our kids in Church.”

Hiz-Kidz debuted during the recent Cinco de Mayo celebration at the parish with three songs in its repertoire. One, written by Father Gonzales, makes reference to an encounter between Judas and the Virgin Mary. Hiz-Kidz members wrote the other two.

Arturo Cruz, a professional Richmond rapper, also is working with the adolescents.

Sixteen-year-old Talia Padilla, one of His-Kidz’s singers, said she likes this group “very much. El Padrecito is one of the coolest priests. It is not common to see the priests rapping.”

Yesenia Alonso, 14, said participation is a unique experience where she can “be with my friends and with the people I like. Here you are close to people who support you and believe in you. It is not necessary to be in the street looking for problems.”

After being involved in gangs for three years and seeing his younger brother stabbed, Jorge Sanchez, 19, decided to quit the world of delinquency and to look to God for help. Today he is one of the Hiz-Kidz singers and the proud father of a five-month-old baby boy.

“I began to change for my son; he motivated me to leave all the danger of the streets. I came to church and a young person told me about this program. I like it because music is very important to me. Besides the entertainment element, it allows me to be with God,” Sanchez said..

Two days before the Cinco de Mayo presentation, Hiz-Kidz rehearsed in front of their parents for the first time.

Verónica Sandoval, parish youth minister and mother of one of the rappers, said she was impressed. “They are discovering themselves, they have demonstrated that they have the capacity to sing and compose.”

“This is wonderful because they bring ideas to express their love to Christ,” said another mom, Patricia Sandoval, whose 13-year-old son is part of the group.

“They are touched with the music they like. It motivates them to compose for God in their own way.”
Father Gonzales understands the young people very well because during his adolescence he, too, had to overcome many difficulties. “I dropped out of high school, I was in juvenile hall and in jail. When I was 18 years old, I lost my leg in a gang fight.”

At age 24, he began to study in a community college near Los Angeles, where he later received his diploma in Chicano studies. He traveled to Spain, Honduras and El Salvador to study Spanish so he could work with the Latino community. In spite of his Hispanic roots, he had forgotten the language of his youth.

Father Gonzales was ordained in San Pablo in 1996. Since then he has traveled throughout California conducting youth retreats and has gotten his website up and running.

He currently serves as associate pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno, Nevada, where he was called two months ago due to the shortage of priests there. Every two weeks he returns to San Pablo to work with Hiz-Kidz.

“My dream is doing this full time and to consecrate every youth in California to the Virgin Mary,” said the priest. “I want to put together more songs and theatrical pieces to help get these kids out of trouble. I would like to go to Oakland, San Francisco, and other cities to get other kids involved.”

“Why couldn’t we have rap contests in the Diocese of Oakland?” he asked. “Of course, they would need to have Catholic lyrics, offer rewards and provide kids with the chance to see who is better. Gangs work in that way: ’Who is better?’”

 


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