Before Gethsemane Initiative

Racial Reconciliation Healing Conversion

Our Mission

John 17

The name of our organization, the Before Gethsemane Initiative (BGI), refers to Jesus’ prayer for unity and conversion before He leaves for the Garden of Gethsemane as written in the Gospel of John, Chapter 17. The mission of BGI is to promote racial reconciliation, healing and awareness about racism and xenophobia from an understanding of the inherent dignity of the human person from conception to natural death.

Catholics First

Fidelity to the Church

At BGI, we completely affirm the fullness of the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. All those involved in a public position with BGI sign a fidelity statement that they completely adhere to the Church’s teachings on all issues.

Who we are

Responding to the Call

The idea for the Before Gethsemane Initiative started in the aftermath of several events including the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. Maria and Chenele perceived a need for a Catholic response to racial tensions from an understanding of the inherent dignity of the human person. We hope the efforts of the Before Gethsemane Initiative help to provide healing to those suffering from wounds related to racism and xenophobia and inspire prayer, fasting and conversion so that we can work towards racial reconciliation with Our Lord leading the way.

Combining prayer and fasting with racial sensitivity training from the framework of Catholic social doctrine

Opportunities for Healing

We provide a space for Catholics of color to find community in the Church at a national level and provide them with opportunities for spiritual and psychological healing from the wounds of racism.

Call to Conversion

We call all Catholics to conversion to turn from the sins of racism and xenophobia.

Support our work!

Donate and sign up for our newsletter to become a prayer partner!

Meet Our Team

Meet the amazing people who make this work

Chenele Shaw

Co-Director

Chenele Shaw holds a B.A. in theology from Ave Maria University and is working towards starting graduate school for her Masters in Clinical Counseling. She is the host of podcast Ave Spotlight with Ave Maria Press, secretary for The Human Condition Community, and is a contributing writer to various Catholic publications including The Grotto Network, The Catholic Woman, and Our Sunday Visitor. Prior to her current work Chenele taught Theology and Catholic Social Teaching in New Orleans and spent a couple years as a Director of Youth Ministry in Denver Co. She currently resides in Florida and can usually be found searching for the best local ice cream, hosting friends at her home, and planning her next national parks trip. Chenele is a part of BGI because she believes that the church is in need of a revival and believes BGI can meet that need!

Maria Benes

Co-Director

Maria Benes is a scholar of political science and an award-winning instructor who has taught classes in human rights, international relations and public policy. She is known for providing students with the tools to have civil and respectful conversations around controversial topics such as abortion, racism and immigration policy. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and a M.A. in international affairs with a concentration in conflict resolution from The George Washington University.

Prior to pursuing her doctoral degree, Maria served as a missionary for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), followed by a couple years as a high school youth minister at Pius X High School in Lincoln, NE. She and her husband, Mitch, have three children: Gemma (9), Gerard (6) and Morgan Frances (their baby saint in Heaven). She loves the Eucharist, spending time with her family, coffee with friends and traveling. Maria looks forward to advocating for the inherent dignity of every human person and bridging the political divide with our Lord at the center.

Louis Damani Jones

Vice President

Louis Damani Jones is the Program and Mission Alignment Coordinator at Catholic Urban Programs. He is a graduate student of clinical social work at Washington University in St. Louis, and an EngageDemocracy Fellow at the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement. During his time at Washington University, he completed the Graduate Policy Scholars program. He hosts two podcasts, “Living Communion” on Catholic social doctrine and “This Civic Moment” on St. Louis- region civic and community leadership. He formerly served the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Diocese of Belleville as an intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

In addition to serving with BGI, he serves on the Board of Directors for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Catholic Charities Young Professionals Board, and the Board of Directors of the Seeds of Justice Network. He is also active as a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus and in his local St. Vincent de Paul Society. He has published poetry and writing in America’s Future, America Magazine, the River Bluff Review, the Catholic Courier, and Black Catholic Messenger. He was named the recipient of the 2020 Cardinal Bernardin Award for New Leadership by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.His patron saints are St. Martin De Porres and St. Louis IX, King of France. His primary vocation is as a husband and father of two.

Santonio Hill

Board Member

Santonio Hill, Maryland native, is currently a Vagabond Missionary in Pittsburgh working with inner city teens. He is an alum of Catholic University of America where he studied philosophy while in minor seminary. After preparing for the priesthood for four years, God called Santonio out of the seminary.

Santonio grew up as a cradle Catholic, however his faith was not much of a priority. His interests geared more towards sports and the arts. He took an unforeseen turn after high school to pursue seminary. While in seminary, Santonio had his first deep encounter with the Lord and ultimately, a great conversion. Before his current position with Vagabond, Santonio was a Theology teacher, FOCUS missionary, and Urban outreach specialist in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Santonio and his wife Kristen were recently married this past August on the feast of the transfiguration. When Santonio is not working you can find him working on his poems and playing basketball.

Natalie Alfaro Frazier

Board President

Natalie Alfaro Frazier grew up on the Central Coast of California in a Catholic Nicaraguan-American family. While studying Global Development Studies at Seattle Pacific University Natalie had a reversion to the faith. Natalie later returned to California and received her Masters in Public Administration from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Natalie is passionate about community-driven social change and radical hospitality and works in the public sector as a consultant, grant writer, and worker bee. Natalie now lives in the Nashville area with her husband and three children.

Hannah Gutierrez

Board Secretary

Hannah Gutierrez is a passionate advocate for justice and mercy. She has worked in education and Catholic ministry for the past eight years. While working as a missionary for The Culture Project, Hannah discovered her love for speaking to women about their goodness. Even though she isn’t in full-time ministry anymore, Hannah strives to remind everyone of their worth. Hannah holds a B.A. in theology from Ave Maria University and credits much of her Catholic formation to the university. She currently resides in Florida and can be found writing, talking about how much she loves being Puerto Rican or searching for the best gluten-free dessert. Hannah is a part of BGI because she wants to equip other Catholics with the tools needed to use their voice for good!

Janine Christiano

Board Treasurer

Janine Christiano brings together practical, applied knowledge of social justice, antiracism, nonprofit administration, and community development with a passion for discipleship through Catholic Social Teaching, commitment to the sacraments, prayer, the vocation of motherhood, and the arts. She is a parishioner of Christ the King Parish in Nashville, TN, and an active member of the Antiracism Ministry as a writer and workshop facilitator. Janine has a degree in Theater from U.C. Irvine and a Master’s Degree in Community Development and Action from Vanderbilt University. Professionally she oversees grantmaking and artist and organization development efforts and has developed and implemented programs related to arts leadership, racial equity, youth development, and restorative practices. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their two children. As an on-fire “revert” she knows firsthand the redemptive power of God’s love and mercy. She is committed to personal conversion, institutional change, collective action, and lifting up diverse voices.

Fr. Maurice Henry Sands

Board Member

Fr. Maurice Henry Sands is the Executive Director for the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington, DC. Fr. Sands is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. He is a full-blooded Native American, growing up on a beautiful island known as Bkejwanong First Nation, located in the St. Clair River, just north of Detroit. He is a member of the Ojibway, Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes, who are known together as Anishnaabe. Fr. Sands also serves as a Consultant to the USCCB Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, as a consultant to the USCCB AD Hoc Committee Against Racism, and as an ex-officio board member of the Tekakwitha Conference.

Fr. Sands work focuses on supporting ministry programs for African American Catholics and Native American Catholics in dioceses across the United States. He travels throughout the year visiting parishes, schools, diocesan ministry offices and national African American and Native American Catholic organizations. Fr. Sands has a strong interest in strengthening the Catholic schools that serve African American and Native American communities, as well as the evangelization outreach and ministry programs for the two communities.

Be a part of a new Catholic initiative.

Join our efforts for racial reconciliation, healing, and conversion!