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Waking Up

How many best friends do we really get in life?

Carlos Segovia was born in El Salvador. He never knew his father and was raised along with his two sisters by their single mother, Sandra Lopez. While still very young, Carlos and his family immigrated to the United States and settled in South Central Los Angeles.

With over 120,000 gang members in an around the city, L.A., commonly called “The Gang Capital of America,” is plagued by gang violence from such gangs as the ‘18th Street’ gang, the ‘38th Street’ gang, and perhaps most famously, the Bloods and the Crips.  The environment in which he grew up was well-depicted by “Tattoos on the Heart” by Fr. Gregory Boyle.  It gives the reader a picture of what the violent, gang-filled neighborhoods of Carlos’ childhood look like, and how they are transformed when introduced to the heart of Jesus Christ.

Carlos was no different from any other young man in that he felt a powerful need for affirmation, a need to belong. Unfortunately, the most common way for those basic needs to be met in his neighborhood was through gang affiliation. Consequently, from the time Carlos was young there was tremendous and constant pressure on him to join a gang.

As Carlos grew up, he gradually spent more and more time hanging out with various gang members, until one day when he was about 15 or 16, he experienced a wake-up call.  He knew that if he continued down his current path, he was either going to end up dying in the streets or spending the rest of his life in and out of prison.  Refusing to accept this, Carlos joined every teen program and camp he could find in order to stay out of trouble. He was committed to turning his life around and making something of it.

When Carlos turned 18, he joined the Marines. He spent his weekends returning to the ghetto that was his neighborhood, trying to help steer younger kids away from the gang lifestyle that so nearly sucked him in only a few short years before.

Carlos Segovia is one of my best friends.

In July of 2013, a new social media app called Weev was released. The goal of its creators was to revolutionize the way people interact with each other on social media.  The idea was to make social media social again and eliminate the prevalence of bullying by means of face-to-face video communication.  Weev made connections on a global scale, uniting people from across the United States and beyond, from countries such as Israel, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and many more besides.  Weev was something of a hybrid of Snapchat, Vine, and texting.  One of the app’s developers wrote the following tagline:

Can you imagine a social app that allows you to have face to face conversations with individuals, stripping clean the negativity and [t]rolling that comes with [your] average “Social Network?” If you can’t, well we have! Welcome to Weev. Weev is social video that talks back. Ask a question, make a statement, or start an idea by taking a quick video. Your friends can reply with their own quick videos, that are stitched [and woven] together to build [a] conversation, tell a story, and create something amazing together!

With this app, you could write a story where each person adds a line to the epic, you could ask people to offer up their favorite book suggestion if you were looking for something new to read, or you could just shoot the breeze, have a drink and chat about people’s days, face to face, all by means of short, 7-second videos.

I joined the community along with a few other seminarians back in February of 2015, a year and a half after the app’s inception. The number of genuine human connections that were made was astounding. I personally know dozens and dozens of people who have met up in real life at self-organized Weev-conventions all across the country, from Los Angeles to New York to Austin, Texas.  People met, friendships were forged, and lives were made richer. I even know several couples who were married after having met on Weev. Despite the rich opportunities for personal interaction on Weev, there was something preventing me from participating fully in the community.

As with many new social endeavors, a large majority of Weev users were younger and more liberally minded. Accordingly, popular opinions on the site were likely against the Church on the hot button issues of the day. I was afraid that I would be rejected or ostracized if people knew that I was studying to be a priest.

This was the lie that the Enemy wanted me to believe.

I debated about it for a while with myself, and finally decided that I could no longer hide my identity from the people I was now calling my friends.  If by their logic, we had to accept everyone for who they were, then surely they would have to accept me. And even if they did not, at least I would have my integrity.  By God’s grace and encouragement, I created a thread, and 7-second video by 7-second video, I revealed my heart and my identity to the world of Weev.  The response was nothing but supportive.

Enter Kari Guerrero. Kari was one of the many ‘Weev’ers whom I grew to know during my time on the app, and also one of the many ‘Weev’ers who posted in support of me and my vocation. What I would later learn was that Jesus had greater plans for these videos than I could have ever imagined.  They would lead to the salvation of souls.

On September 17th, 2016, just over a year and a half after joining the app, I received this message from Kari: “Eric. I’m sorry I didn’t know who else to ask for help. My friend was shot in the head last night and is on life support. He is 19 a marine. Was a victim of violence here in LA. Please pray please ask god to help him wake up.” This was when I was first introduced to Carlos Segovia, 2,700 miles away, in the ICU, in a coma.

The night before I received that message, Carlos was out in his neighborhood trying to discourage young men from joining up with a gang when several members of that very gang happened upon him and gunned him down where he stood.

When Kari messaged me, I knew that the only reason she had been able to reach out to me was because God had given me the grace and the courage to be able to share my identity with the community on the app.  I knew therefore that I had the responsibility to pray for Carlos, and his family and friends.

As I prayed, I thought for a moment, and realized that given his last name there was a good chance he was Catholic. I asked Kari whether this was so, and she replied that he was.  As a Catholic in grave danger of death, it was vital that Carlos be visited by a priest and given the Anointing of the Sick and Last Rites. I asked whether his Marine Chaplain had been to see him.  Kari replied that she thought that *she* had come to see him, which was definitely not what I had hoped to hear.

I told Kari that he would have to be visited by a Catholic priest, but she said that she didn’t know how to arrange that.  So, I asked for Carlos’ information and the information of the hospital in which he was receiving care, and I set to work Googling the closest Catholic Parish in Los Angeles.  I called the parish, identifying myself as a Catholic Seminarian from Philadelphia, and told the parish secretary that a young Catholic man nearby was in a coma and desperately needed a priest to administer the sacraments. They sent a priest over later that day who administered last rites to Carlos, with his family present.

Six days later, after extensive testing indicated a lack of brain activity, Carlos Segovia was pronounced brain dead. He was taken off life support and died on September 23rd, 2016. I continued to pray for Carlos and his family and friends, and reflected on all that had taken place, and the closeness of God through it all.

This is where I thought this was where the story would end.  I was wrong.

Two years went by and I was on my Spiritual Year, returning from pilgrimage in Washington, DC. I was praying Evening Prayer in the van on the way back, and just as I read the Intercession for the Dead, I experienced only what I can call consolation from God. Without any prior thought or prompting, Carlos became totally present in my mind.  I was suddenly and completely aware of his presence though I hadn’t thought of him in two years. I can’t explain it, but I knew in that moment that spiritually, he was with me, and that he knew what I had done for him at the end of his life, and that he was now interceding for me to the Father as a way of thanking me.

Kari prayed, “Please ask God to help him wake up,” and I suppose God did answer this prayer after all. God did help him wake up… into eternal life… And what better awakening is there than that?

So now I have a best friend, though we have never met in person, or even ever exchanged any words, and all because God gave me the courage to embrace my identity and the grace to allow him to work through me.