London, England, Apr 8, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- At a ecumenical rally to call for an end to knife crime, the Archbishop of Westminster on Saturday challenged the community to provide youths with positive alternatives to gangs.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols spoke at the Standing Together rally in London’s Trafalgar Square April 6. He highlighted efforts being taken by the Catholic Church to discourage gang enrollment and called for more action from parishes, schools, and parents.
“The only way of counteracting a gang culture is to create for young people a sense of belonging to something else: something that’s positive, creative and attractive to them,” said Nichols.
The April 6 event was hosted by Ascension Trust in partnership with London City Mission, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and the Diocese of Southwark. The goal of the rally is to encourage the community to work against gang violence and support those who have been affected by it.
In 2017 and 2018, 285 people in the UK died from stabbings, the highest number on record; and there have been 22 fatal stabbings in London in 2019, according to the BBC.
Knife offenses in England and Wales have risen steadily since 2014, to more than 39,800 in 2017-2018. The vast majority of knife offenses in England and Wales are assault or robbery; though most violent attacks do not involve the use of any weapon.
In London, black and minority ethnic teenage boys and young men are disproportionately affected by knife crime, both as victims and perpetrators.
Nichols drew attention to some Catholic schools in London who have worked with the Metropolitan Police on anti-gang programs. Before children are introduced to gangs, he said, these programs provide explanations of this life-style’s dangers and the means for children to counteract offers.
He also applauded the efforts of a parish priest in his archdiocese seeking to initiate a boxing club. The cardinal said boxing has been a positive avenue for youth in the past. These opportunities even led to careers, as in the case of John Conteh, he said.
“In my youth in Liverpool there were a lot of Catholic parishes with boxing clubs because they taught discipline and the right use of strength,” he said.
“This was the alternative to gang culture and this is the kind of reaction we need to involve young people in a way that calls out their commitment and helps them to build discipline and self-control in their lives, and that’s the best counter to some of the worst influences today.”
Nichols also encouraged parents to talk to their children about truth, and find times to sit in silence and pray, specifically to counter the influences of social media. These outlets are restricting the full potential of young people, he said, noting the media contain false promises and is a promotion of instant gratification.
“In families and schools we need to be scrupulous in telling each other the truth and not hiding behind the half-truths, crudeness and unworthiness of things that are cheap, quick and popular today.”
Speaking directly to the youth, the cardinal encouraged young people to remove themselves from gangs and throw out knives at anonymous deposit boxes throughout the city. These weapons do not ensure security, he said, noting that carrying knife will only promote its use and put oneself and others at risk. Rather, he said young people should seek out sincere friendships.
“So build friendships, find places where you can go and sit and honestly talk and share your experiences with other people. Say your prayers, turn to God, turn to Christ and let your life grow from that relationship with Jesus rather than from anywhere else.”
The British government announced last month it would provide police in England and Wales an additional GBP 100m ($130.6m) in the next year to counter knife crime.
Police in England and Wales were also given greater power to search people without reasonable suspicion in areas where there is a risk that serious violence may occur.