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At Vespers, Fr. Greg Boyle talks about privilege of working with former gang members

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“My parents were faithful people, and by that I mean they were anchored in love, tethered to God and unshakable in their goodness,” said Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. at the 5 p.m. Sunday Vespers on July 15 in the Hall of Philosophy. He shared some of his faith journey.

He said that three of the most holy people he knew were Pedro Arrupe, 28th superior general of the Society of Jesus; Cesar Chavez, farmer worker union and civil rights activist; and Richard Mexico, who spent 33 years in prison and began 12-step programs for gang members in prison.

Arrupe was in Hiroshima when the bomb fell, and there is a classic photograph of him running toward the devastation. Boyle encountered him years later in the basement of a theater in Philadelphia looking for the bathroom.

“The combination of the prophetic and the hilarious was what I wanted. That is why I became a Jesuit.”

-Father Greg Boyle, S.J. 

Pope Francis is also a Jesuit.

The Society of Jesus was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. He said that there is nothing more practical than finding God.

“What seizes the imagination will decide everything,” Boyle said. “Fall in love, stay in love, and that will decide everything.”

Boyle said that working with gang members was a privilege and turned his life upside down.

“We are all born wanting the same things. I seem to have won all the lotteries,” he said. “I had the right parents, the right education, the right zip code.”

A life filled with love and care are what the gang members are looking for, Boyle said. People ask him if the Homeboys and Homegirls are beyond redemption.

“I can say with certainty, of course not,” he said. “But there are some who you are not quite sure will turn the ship around.”

Danny was a Homeboy who swore he would never set foot at Homeboy Industries. He went to prison at age 18, and when he was released at age 20, he took care of his mother, who had pancreatic cancer.

His mother had tortured him as a child, but the week after her funeral, Danny walked into Homeboy Industries. He went to school, took some college courses and worked with people he used to shoot at.

One night, Danny was on the train going home, and there was an older Homie standing and hanging onto the strap. Danny was wearing a Homeboy sweatshirt that said “Homeboy Industries: Jobs not Jails.”

“You work there?” the straphanger said to Danny. “Is it any good?”

“They helped me,” Danny said. “I’m not going back to prison.”

Danny wrote the address on a piece of paper, handed it to the man and said: “Come see us, we’ll help you.”

The man took the paper, said thank you and got off the train.

“What happened next never happened before,” Danny said to Boyle when he recounted the story. “People were staring at me, nodding and smiling at me. For the first time in my life, I felt admired.”

Boyle shed tears as he said: “We wept together. I would not trade my life for anyone’s because everyday the Homies remind me to find myself anchored in love, tethered to God and always mindful of my own unshakeable goodness. Fall in love, stay in love. It will decide everything.”

Tags : Fr. Greg Boylehomeboy industriesJesuitSt. Ignatius of LoyolaThe Society of JesusVespers
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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the Morning Worship column. A Presbyterian minister, she preaches at the Seneca Reservation in Irving. She is the deputy managing director of People Helping People International. Her latest book is Chautauqua’s Heart, the first full history of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. She lives in Chautauqua with her dog, Max, and is beginning her second term as a member of the Board of Education of Chautauqua Lake Central School District.