“Helping them, is helping me. I’m finding my purpose.”Cesar Sanchez
Young adult tries to rescue at-risk youth with trust in God
By the time Cesar Sanchez was 13, his brother had died in gang violence four years earlier, his single mom had emotionally withdrawn from Cesar in her grief and the young teen turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.
A year later, he was lying in a hospital bed from an overdose and doctors were ready to turn off the machines that were keeping him alive. The boy’s mother dropped to her knees and prayed for a miracle.
Her cries were answered, and Sanchez recovered. He thanked the doctors for saving his life but even they said, “it wasn’t us,” and pointed to his mother’s prayers. She said, “you need to thank God, because he’s the one who gave you another chance.”
Sanchez had been an atheist since his brother’s death and admits he went through the motions of going to church to appease his mother. After his recovery, Sanchez said he gave God one shot to prove to him He’s real.
The next time he went to Mass, the priest shared stories in his homily that resonated so strongly and spoke directly to secrets the teen had that he knew only God could know about him. He believed.
In spite of his moment of clarity, temptations continued for Sanchez, and he fell right back into a lifestyle of partying with friends. He said he was too weak and fell twice as hard. He thought he was too young to change his ways and wanted to keep the party going.
Sanchez felt he was the worst of the worst and why would God leave 99 more deserving people to come save him. Just like Jesus’ parable about the sheep, the teen learned he was deserving of God’s love when he attended a young adult religious retreat that he had been coaxed into attending by his mother. On the second day, he recalls his “calling.”
Sanchez first was called to participate in the Prevencion y Rescate youth group at Ascension Catholic Parish in Denver and later as a leader for the group that focuses on rescuing addicts and gang members found on the streets. The program uses, a sort of, 12-step process that teaches the person to take stock of their lives, but also assists them to work through family dynamics and patterns.
Just as St. Monica never gave up on St. Augustine, Sanchez said his mother never gave up on him. Sanchez, in turn, never gave up on his oldest brother — 16 years his senior. This brother got involved in the darkness of the Hispanic cult, Santa Muerte, which is associated with drug cartels in Mexico and has been condemned by Pope Francis as dangerous. Looking into his brother’s eyes struck fear in Sanchez’ heart.
His brother had been kicked out of his home and marriage, but one day in 2020 he finally renounced the cult and started attending Mass. Sanchez shared Bible stories with his brother and he spent the next few months connecting with God and his faith.
Sadly, Sanchez also lost this brother to gun violence later that year when he was shot outside his home. In the month before he died, Sanchez said his brother told him he felt his time was coming to an end, but he was grateful for the time God gave him to get close to Him.
“None of us were ready to lose my brother, but he left us some peace,” said Sanchez, who is now 23. “When my other brother died (in 2009), I was depressed and wanted to seek revenge, but it was truly different this time. The ministry helped strengthen my faith.”
Sanchez uses the grief and challenges from his life to gain trust from the youth who participate in Prevencion y Rescate. His group has weekly meetings at the parish and occasional weekend retreats. Sanchez hopes the teens learn from him that it’s not worth putting themselves in danger, going to the parties, carrying guns, exposing themselves to those situations.
“I lost two brothers. I pray they have an eye-opening encounter,” Sanchez said. “Helping them, is helping me. I’m finding my purpose.”
Ministries like Prevencion y Rescate are supported by the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal. Gifts to the appeal at archden.org/GiveCatholic help others become rooted in Christ through outreach ministries like this one and 40 others.
Congratulations, Cesar Sanchez, for being the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, “Disciple of the Month.”
If you know someone else who is courageously spreading the Gospel, please share his or her story with us at archden.org/give/nominate and they may become the next “Disciple of the Month.”
The Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal funds over 40 ministries that are sharing the Gospel every day.