By Arlene Edmonds

Special to The CS&T

Faith and fellowship help Catholic women who have lost a loved one to the escalating violence in Philadelphia.

Just ask Nadestra Morales, a member of La Milagrosa, the city’s Latino “mother church” located at 19th and Spring Garden Streets.

The chapel is not readily noticeable in the Northern Liberties community. If it weren’t for the signage one would think it was just another rowhouse. Technically a mission church of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, several blocks away in Center City, La Milagrosa has its own 100-year-old tradition.

For Morales, it is from this small Spanish-speaking congregation that she receives encouragement. “Many of my friends go to that church,” she said. “Many of my neighbors are members of the church. You can feel God there, and the love of the people makes me happy.”

In her living room there is much evidence of her faith, like a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There is also a large oil painting of her son David, a handsome brown-skinned 38-year-old man with black hair, with his arm around his mother’s petite caramel-brown frame and shoulder-length dark tresses. The painting was a holiday gift from Morales’ daughter.

“I pray to God every single day,” said Morales, who lost David to street violence two years ago. Her living children range in age from 42 to 51. “I don’t just pray for myself, but every mother who has a loss. I pray for the mothers of the ones who kill and whosesons are in jail. They are hurting, too. I ask God to help us all feel better. Every morning I pray for all the mothers, because we are all in pain. I still pray for my son and I know that he sees me praying for him. God comes near me and helps me to (cope).”

In addition to her church family, Morales also finds support from the group Mothers in Charge, especially the Catholic women in the group like Brenda Powell, a member of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Mount Airy; and Dorothy Johnson-Speight, the organizer of Mothers in Charge, and a member of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church East in Philadelphia.

Though Morales and Johnson-Speight come from different faith traditions, they share the same belief in Jesus Christ.

“They have helped me a lot,” Morales said. “They are really good people. They understand what I am going through. They know that I still miss my son very much. Sometimes other people who have not been through this experience do not want you to keep talking about your loved one. So, when I go to the meetings they welcome me talking about him. When I leave I feel good, because sometimes you need to talk about it.”

Johnson-Speight has lost two children, including one to Philadelphia’s gun violence. A collection of black angels fills the curio cabinet in the corner of Johnson-Speight’s Mount Airy home. This, she said, represents why she works diligently with Mothers in Charge, including members like Morales.

“So many people have become angels in my life,” she said. “There are still a lot of good people who understand your issues. There are some things you go through when you lose a child that no one can understand unless they’ve gone through it. That’s why having a group like this is so important, because you are with people who really understand what you have gone through and are still going through. We are able to share our faith, because that is what gets you through your losses – because the hurt from the loss is always there.”

The story Morales often shares with the group’s members is the one that took place on Sept. 20, 2006. She was in her kitchen making coffee at 6 a.m. when a neighbor said there was a shooting on 17th Street.

Her heart sank and her mother’s intuition kicked in, she said. She knew it was her son. Thus, Morales said she immediately began to cry even before a police officer arrived at her front door informing her that it was indeed her 38-year-old son who lost his life.

“The detective told me it was my son who was shot,” Morales said. “I have been crying every day since. I still have four of my kids, but that will never make up for the son I lost. It’s every mother’s greatest fear. I don’t wish this on anyone. That’s the type of story I can share again and again with the other mothers who’ve been through what I’ve been, because they understand.”

Many of the women of Mothers in Charge have become politically active, joined neighborhood groups and have even gone into the schools and prisons to share their stories and warn young people of the consequences of their behavior.

These days, Morales puts most of her energy into raising her 15-year-old grandson, Hector.

He is doing well at school and he not only provides his grandmother with companionship, since he now lives with her, but is keenly aware how important it is for him to excel in school and stay out of trouble. Thus far, he is making Morales very proud.

But Morales often sits by the door – sometimes saying the rosary – waiting for Hector to arrive home from school. She rarely allows him to go out at night, or hang out in the neighborhood.

“I never relax until I know that he is in the house,” Morales. “Sometimes I know I treat him like he’s a little boy, but he’s good. He understands. He looks out for me and I look out for him. I just pray that he stays safe.”

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and a member of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish. She may be reached at