Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 7, 2013 (CNA) - Father Greg Boyle, the founder of a program that helps former gang members in Los Angeles, said his mission is a way of living the Christian message, having solidarity with those on the margins of society.
“Living the Gospel is about standing with the demonized, so that the demonizing will stop; standing with the disposables so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away,” Fr. Boyle, a Jesuit priest, told CNA June 26.
While pastor of Dolores Mission parish in east Los Angeles, Fr. Boyle began an outreach to gang members 25 years ago. That outreach has since grown into Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the U.S.
“That's what the hope of this place is; it helps people for sure, and it helps gang members imagine an exit ramp off this crazy, violent freeway.”
“But it stands as a symbol to the world…what if we were to invest in people rather than just incarcerate our way out of this problem.”
Fr. Boyle's ministry offers hope, training and job skills to those formerly involved in gangs or in jail. In addition to helping them find employment, Homeboy Industries also provides case management, tattoo removal, mental health and legal services, and GED completion.
While the group's website says it is “not affiliated with any particular religion,” it also notes that many of its works are “in line with the Jesuit practice of social justice,” and Fr. Boyle said that the organization does not seek to “downplay” its Catholic identity.
“This place is soaked with the Gospel,” he reflected, noting the importance of solidarity.
“Are you standing with the easily despised, and the readily left out? Are you dismantling the barriers that exclude, are you widening the circle of compassion so that nobody's standing outside the circle?”
Fr. Boyle emphasized that gang life is not the highly dramatized situation that media and popular culture often think of it as.
“I think people would be surprised at a lot of the mythic notions that are in fact untrue…it's not as dramatic as people think,” he said, pointing to the common “misunderstanding” that “people are blood-in, blood-out, the only way out is through all this highly dramatic, crazy stuff.”
In reality, he said, about 95 percent of gang members “really want to have a life” that is better and more stable, and the remainder are “probably too damaged or mentally ill” to want one.
Fr. Boyle also said it is a myth that “somehow a kid is drawn, or lured, or attracted to joining a gang.”
Kids join gangs not because they seek something, such as belonging, but “always” because they are “fleeing something…with no exceptions.”
There are three general profiles of kids who join gangs, Fr. Boyle said: first, “there's the kid who's despondent and who can't imagine tomorrow”; second, “the kid who's traumatized, who doesn't know how to transform his pain, so he continues to transmit it”; and finally, the mentally ill.
By identifying these causes, the roots of gang affiliation can be addressed, the priest reflected.
“We would infuse hope to the kid for whom hope is foreign; and we would heal the traumatized, damaged kids; and we would deliver mental health services in a timely fashion to the kid who's mentally ill.”
CNA also spoke to a former gang member, Terry Davis, who is now a filmmaker in New York City.
Davis grew up in the suburbs of Columbia, South Carolina, and emphasized in a May 24 interview that gang violence is not limited to inner cities.
“A lot of people from the hood used to come to the suburban community where we stayed at…and jump us, try to rob us, because they looked at us as being suburban kids, and that's what made us band together and make our own gang, to fight back against them,” he explained.
South Carolina's gang problem was largely class-based, he said, explaining that he was able to escape that lifestyle by attending college.
Fr. Boyle said Davis' story isn't “very typical,” but does reflect the fact that gang life is less dramatic than it is held to be in the popular imagination.
For people seeking to act in solidarity with those in cycles of gang violence, the priest advised looking to Christ's example.
“What you want to do in living the faith, is…take seriously what Jesus took seriously. And what's the motivation behind living the Gospel, and accompanying the poor, and doing what we do here? It's all based in absolute love, there isn't any fear; it's not driven by fear.”
Fr. Boyle said that he is “quite heartened” by Pope Francis, whom he described as “kind of full-speed ahead.”
“There was a homily he gave the other day…about making messes, and being comfortable with mess.”
“As long as you're trying to live the Gospel, you going to make mistakes,” Fr. Boyle emphasized, but “the measure of our help always is how expansive, and how spacious is our response.”
“That's a response that more greatly resembles the God we in fact have.”
Vatican City, Jul 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In order to do the Lord’s work, Pope Francis said, we should remember our first encounter with Jesus, in which we were invited to recognize our own sinfulness and experience his loving gaze.
“Those who consider themselves righteous, they can cook in their own stew!” the Pope said during morning Mass on July 5. “He came for us sinners and this is beautiful.”
Pope Francis celebrated the Mass alongside the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino, on the day of Venezuela’s national holiday.
Staff of the Vatican’s Governorate also attended the Eucharistic celebration.
Reflecting on a Bible passage in which the tax collector Matthew decides to follow Jesus, he asked those present to remember their first encounter with Christ.
“Remember always, it is like blowing on the embers of that memory, no? Blowing to keep the fire alive, always,” he said at the chapel of St. Martha.
“That memory gives Matthew strength and to all of them to forge ahead: ‘the Lord has changed my life, I met the Lord!’” he added.
Pope Francis gave his homily based on the Gospel passage in which Jesus invites Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him. Later in the reading, Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners to which he replies, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do.”
“The taxpayers were sinners twice because they were attached to money and were also traitors of the country in the sense that they collected taxes from their own people for the Romans,” said the Pope.
“Matthew feels Jesus’ gaze upon him and he feels stunned,” he said. “He hears Jesus’ invitation, ‘follow me, follow me.’”
According to the Holy Father, Matthew is then “full of joy but he’s also doubtful because he’s also very attached to money.”
“It just took a moment and we see how (the artist) Caravaggio was able to capture it, that man who was looking, but also, with his hands, was taking the money,” he stated.
He noted that there is “a moment in which Matthew says yes, leaves everything and goes with the Lord.”
“It is the moment of mercy received and accepted, ‘yes I’m coming with you!’ and it is the first moment of the meeting, a profound spiritual experience,” said Pope Francis.
He then reflected on the second part of the reading, during which Jesus eats with the sinners and tax collectors.
“The Lord feasts with the sinners. God’s mercy is celebrated,” he said.
He explained how the biblical parables talk of those who refuse to take part in the Lord’s feast; that Jesus went out to find the poor and the sick and feasted with them.
“And following these two moments, the stunned encounter and the feast, comes the ‘daily work’ of announcing the Gospel,” he added.
The Pope stressed that this work “must be nurtured with the memory of that first encounter, of that feast” and that this work is not just for one moment, but lasts up to the end of one’s life.
The strength to do this work, he told the Governorate, comes from the memory of “those events, of that encounter with Jesus who has changed my life, who had mercy!”
Vatican City, Jul 7, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his July 7 Angelus reflection, Pope Francis reminded those gathered in St. Peter’s Square that all of the faithful are called to be missionaries, spreading the Gospel message.
Reflecting on the day’s Gospel, he observed that “Jesus is not an isolated missionary, does not want to fulfill his mission alone, but involves his disciples.”
Not only does he call the 12 apostles, The Holy Father noted, but “He calls seventy-two others, and sends them into the villages, two by two, to announce that the Kingdom of God is near.”
“This is very beautiful! Jesus does not want to act alone. He has come to bring to the world the love of God and wants to spread that love with a style of communion and fraternity. For this reason, he forms immediately a community of disciples, which is a missionary community.”
However, the Pope cautioned, “the purpose is not to socialize, to spend time together – no, the purpose is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and this is urgent! There is no time to waste in small talk, no need to wait for the consent of all – there is need only of going out and proclaiming.”
He pointed to the many missionaries that carry out this work of bringing Christ’s peace, healing and hope to remote areas of the world.
Observing that the 12 apostles represent the bishops, their successors, he reflected that the 72 disciples sent by Christ represent not only priests and deacons but also “catechists and lay faithful who engage in parish missions, those who work with the sick, with the various forms of discomfort and alienation, but always as missionaries of the Gospel, with the urgency of the Kingdom that is at hand.”
He added that the missionaries in the Gospel returned full of joy “because they had experienced the power of the Name of Christ against evil.” We must remember, however, that we are not the protagonists in mission work, but our joy is in the Lord and his grace.
After the Angelus, the Pope offered some thoughts on his new encyclical, “The Light of Faith,” which was released Friday.
“For the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI had started this Encyclical, which follows on from those on charity and hope,” he remarked. “I picked up this project and I have finished it. I offer it with joy to the whole People of God.”
Pope Francis said that “especially today, we need to go to the essentials of the Christian faith, to deepen it, and to measure current issues by it.”
He added that the encyclical “can also be useful to those who are searching for God and for the meaning of life.”
“I put it in the hands of Mary, the perfect icon of faith, that it may bring in the fruits that the Lord wants.”
The Pope concluded his remarks by offering a special greeting to the youth of Rome who are preparing to travel to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day later this month, as well as to other religious groups gathered in Rome for meetings.