PORTLAND, Oregon — Division in the nation and in the church is not about hate or immorality, but about a lack of health and wholeness, said a priest who has ministered among Los Angeles gang members for over 30 years.
“How do we love each other into wholeness?” asked Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, which offers job training and an accepting community for ex-cons and addicts. It’s been called the largest and most successful gang intervention enterprise on the planet.
Boyle said that rival gang members, for example, don’t fight because of hate but because they are not well, having yet to be touched by God’s extravagant love and mercy. Homeboy seeks to be God’s conduit, and staff have seen many gang members change radically after someone at Homeboy expresses tenderness.
Sparring Catholics could do the same for each other, the priest suggested. “We’re all just trying to walk each other home,” he said. “Otherwise, you think it’s about winning the argument. No, (we should say,) ‘You belong to us and we will help you to find wholeness.’ Moralism has only kept us from each other.”
One of Homeboy’s mottos is: “Not us and them. Just us.”
The Catholic Sentinel, Portland’s archdiocesan newspaper, interviewed Boyle recently on Zoom before a national audience, many of whom had watched “Homeboy Joy Ride,” a new film about the ministry from documentarian Paul Steinbroner of Wenatchee, Washington.
Boyle said “joy ride” is a good metaphor for what happens because when the former gang members feel love and are convinced they have inherent value, joy is one typical result.
In his film, Steinbroner interviews several tattoo-laden “homies,” as they are called, who speak eloquently of acceptance, lightness and the internally driven desire to keep being better, even amid lapses.
“They say Disneyland is the happiest place,” Steinbroner said. “No, it’s Homeboy.”