Jesuit speaks on dignity of every person

Jesuit Father Greg Boyle spoke to a sold-out crowd at St. Matthews Episcopal Church on Aug. 6. Father Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, a ministry that provides support and job-training to men and women formerly involved in gangs and those previously incarcerated. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Jesuit Father Gregory J. Boyle asked people gathered at St. Matthews Episcopal Church Aug. 6 to “imagine a circle of compassion and then imagine nobody standing outside of that circle.”

Father Boyle urged the 300 or so people gathered to go to the margins of society and stand with the poor, the powerless and the voiceless.

“Stand with those whose dignity has been denied and you stand with those whose burdens are more than they can bear. … And what a privilege it is to stand with the disposable so that the day will come that we stop throwing people away,” he said.

Father Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization that ministers to former gang members in Los Angeles.

Father Boyle began the ministry that led to what is now Homeboy Industries during his days as a pastor of the Delores Mission Church in Los Angeles in the late 1980s.

To address the devastating gang violence in the neighborhood surrounding the parish and in the greater Los Angeles community, Father Boyle and other individuals sought to provide basic job-training skills and compassion to those seeking a way out of gang activity. Today, Homeboy Industries provides services to 15,000 men and women.

In his address last week, Father Boyle said the measure of compassion lies not in the service to those on the margins but “only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.”

“For the truth of the matter is if we don’t welcome our own wounds we may well be tempted to despise the wounded. … We are all a cry for help. We are all in need of healing, that’s one of the things that joins us together as members of the human family,” he said.

This notion of “kinship” is also inherent in the philosophy of ChooseWell Communities, one of the event’s co-hosts.

ChooseWell is a non-profit organization in Louisville that seeks to make compassion more present in healthcare experiences said Stephanie Barnett.

One of ChooseWell’s signature ministries is called Project Thrive, a housing initiative that assists young families with previous substance abuse addictions to  maintain sobriety in order to raise their children in healthy and drug-free homes, Barnett said.

ChooseWell promotes a “compassionate, holistic and family-centered approach in meeting the recovery, housing, vocational, educational, child development and health-related priorities of its participants,” she said.

She hopes Father Boyle’s presentation helped supporters of ChooseWell learn how his model of kinship at Homeboy Industries can be adapted to ChooseWell’s programs.

“Kinship is the deepest compassionate connection between individuals and especially between people who we would call ‘living on the margins’ and those of us privileged not to have the same lived-experiences,” she said.

Kinship, she said, is more than a service. It’s where you are connected and there is no “us and them. There’s just us.”

“How do we show up with people on the margins so that our lives are changed by being able to experience what they’ve experienced,” she said.

Currently, the Project Thrive housing pilot assists 15 families but organizers would like to grow that number to 70, said Barnett.

Barnett hopes to partner with more workforce development programs and compassionate employers to offer training programs that meet the women where they are.

“When I think of the Gospel’s call to care, to walk the path that Christ walked, this is a real live way that’s being carried out with people that others would have thrown away.

“How can we meet these individuals without trying to rescue, without trying to judge and without trying to get our egos in the way? That’s not the way Christ operated. Christ was present,” said Barnett, who attended Mercy Academy.

The event was co-hosted by the Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion. St. William Church, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and Save-A-Lot sponsored the event.

To learn more about ChooseWell, visit choose

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