Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. spoke at Ignatius Church on Wednesday, March 18, 2015 as the keynote speaker of Boston College Campus Ministry’s FAST Week, promoting “faith, action and solidarity” by stressing the need to stand with the disenfranchised in order to eliminate marginalization.
“Its 90 degrees in Los Angeles,” Fr. Greg quipped as he opened his talk in front of an overflowing Ignatius Church. Though Fr. Greg’s speech emphasized service, from his friendly demeanor it quickly became clear that he was not going to give a dry, erudite description of how to serve others; he peppered his talk with jokes and stories, sharing personal anecdotes not universal doctrine.
In fact, Fr. Greg doesn’t even consider his own work service. Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. began his gang rehabilitation work in 1988, during one of the most violent eras of LA history, starting with a small school for young gang members. A few years later, Fr. Greg and a few interested youths began Homeboy Bakery and Homeboy Tortillas, small businesses that accidentally led to the kickoff of Homeboy Industries, a program intended to serve and aid high-risk youths by offering alternatives to gang life.
Currently, Homeboy Industries accepts nearly 15000 gang members a year, engaging them in rehabilitation, providing work opportunities and guiding them through the healing process. Homeboy Industries offers an 18-month training program for all gang members, but Fr. Greg highlighted the importance of healing, not training, as a way to develop active attachment repair and help ex-gang members find new identities. Homeboy Industries has helped rehabilitation centers get off the ground throughout the US and in 11 other countries.
For Fr. Greg, however, it isn’t about the numbers, it’s about the stories and the moments. He explained that he is not a healer and learns more from the “homies and homegirls” than they from him.
Centering and somewhat grounding Fr. Greg’s mission is his faith background as a Jesuit. Echoing the words of Pope Francis, Fr. Greg noted the need to stand with the marginalized of society, but, perhaps more importantly, “to do so joyfully.” Fr. Greg’s joy was ever present in his stories and added credence to the worth of his work.
“Its about us,” Fr. Greg shared, “that’s the only plan from Jesus.” Fr. Greg touched on the nature of “us” and kinship, sharing some important insights with the Boston College community. “There’s a distance even in service -- service provider and service recipient,” Fr. Greg noted. He explained that in order to break down the inherent boundaries of service, one needs to stand at the margins with the margins. “If you stand long enough you’ll notice the margins disappearing under your feet.” People need to be “hospitable” to their brokenness in order to better connect with others.
For Fr. Greg, there isn’t a detailed list of actions to take to solve issues. He simply stated, “love is the answer, community is the context and tenderness is the methodology.” Fr. Greg’s words were often spiritual, practical and certainly genuine, but they were, more than anything, tender.
Fr. Greg concluded by asking the Boston College community to welcome vulnerability. He asked, “How can I heal the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds.” However, it’s clear that strength has grown out of Fr. Greg’s experience and his keynote address was met with a warm standing ovation.