Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said the only way to counteract gang culture is to create “a sense of belonging” for young people.
Speaking at an ecumenical public rally against knife crime and youth violence held in Trafalgar Square in London on 6 April, the Cardinal said that young people need to belong to something “positive, creative and attractive to them”.
He gave the example of a priest who approached him looking to set up a boxing club in his parish. He explained that, in his youth, several Catholic parishes in Liverpool had had boxing clubs because they “taught discipline and the right use of strength”.
The Cardinal said the clubs were an “alternative to gang culture”.
“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,” he said.
The Cardinal also made reference to negative social media influences:
“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,” he said.
“Young people need deep roots so they can stand tall and grow to their full potential”, he added.
He also had a direct message to young people who have found themselves involved in gangs or carrying knives:
"If you or your friends are involved in gangs, try to find a way out. If you or your friends carry or possess knives, go to one of the banks and anonymously get rid of the knife in your possession, just get rid of it. It doesn't make you safer it puts you at risk of using it and not only will you cause harm to somebody else, you'll damage your own life.
"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 Cardinal spoke of the need to pray and to look to the Cross, not just as a place of sorrow and suffering, but as a place that witnesses the birth of new hope, he said:
“For families worried about their youngsters, talk, talk, keep talking. To families who are worried and strained in their relationships, find times of silence when you sit together, say a simple prayer.”
The “Standing Together Rally”, brought together church leaders, young people, families and communities impacted by violent crime.
The rally follows a string of stabbings in London and other parts of the UK during the first few months of 2019. To date there have been 20 fatal stabbings this year in London alone.
Figures from London's Metropolitan police showed that during 2018 knife crime surged by 16 per cent in the capital.
The Evening Standard, reports that a person was knifed to death on average every four days in London in 2017 and 2018.
Official statistics for 2019 have not been made available.
Saturday’s rally was organised by the Ascension Trust, which operates the Street Pastor initiative where trained volunteers patrol the streets at night offering practical or spiritual assistance.