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May 28, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 15
 

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photo: Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit from Los Angeles, spoke to a packed house at Church of the Holy Spirit in Virginia Beach.Priest helps gang members learn to respect others

Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest and author of the New York Times Bestseller “Tattoos on the Heart,” told a packed house at Holy Family Catholic Church in Virginia Beach that “we as a society got this gang thing all wrong.”

Invited by the Tidewater Sowers of Justice JustFaith Community, Father Greg is pastor of Dolores Mission and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.

On May 8 local ministry leaders, students, clergy, and parishioners from churches and organizations throughout the Hampton Roads region came to hear the sought-after speaker talk about the powerful work being done in the gang intervention program he founded in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, an area considered to be the gang capital of the world.

“It is the moral overlay put on the situation that gets us in trouble,” he told his audience. “That path feels right, but any opportunity for kinship is lost the minute the discussion turns to high moral ground.”

Started nearly 20 years ago as a bakery, Homeboy Industries’ various businesses — including silk-screening, landscaping, and tattoo removal — was created to give young people a place to lay gang affiliations aside, and to learn how to work together and learn mutual respect.

Using a series of parables and true stories of courage and faith, Father Greg, or “G-dog” as he is known in his neighborhood, challenged the audience of close to 300 to look at gang activity in a different way.

His goal is always to help a young person return himself to himself, and to help them imagine a better future.

“Kids join gangs because of a ‘lethal’ absence of hope,” he said. “In all my 25 years of doing this, I have yet to meet a hopeful kid that joined a gang.”

When asked what could be done locally to create a Homeboy business in Hampton Roads, Father Greg encouraged those in the audience to first “nurture something organic.”

Of 20 other cities that have come to Los Angeles to learn how to create a similar program, Father Greg said that each found a way to fit the specific need in its own community.

Abby Causey of Holy Spirit was one of the organizers of the program.

“The local JustFaith community typically brings in one national speaker a year,” she said. “It is an opportunity to gather graduates as well as to promote JustFaith programs.”

JustFaith is a national organization developed to help “transform people and expand their commitment to social ministry” through a variety of small faith community programs.

Known locally as the Tidewater Sowers of Justice JustFaith Community, the program is sponsored by the Virginia Beach parishes of Ascension, Holy Family, Holy Spirit, and St. Nicholas; Sacred Heart, Norfolk, and St. Therese, Chesapeake; Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia, as well as the Office of Justice and Peace and Voices that Challenge.

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