Father Greg Boyle. (Photo: Provided)

Father Greg Boyle, a superhero without a cape in the barrio, has saved countless lives through his spiritual leadership, organizing skills, and disciplined outreach with Homeboy Industries of Los Angeles.

Recently, President Biden awarded Father Boyle—known as «G» to some gang members—the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, a well-deserved recognition. The city of Los Angeles also dedicated a special day in his honor.

Explaining his path to this work, Father Boyle says, «I just happened to be assigned as the pastor of the poorest parish in LA, nestled between two public housing projects with the highest concentration of gang activity – eight gangs at war with each other in my parish. I could either bury my head in the sand or roll up our sleeves. We chose the sleeves.»

Across the country, many other good organizations, like Barrios Unidos of Santa Cruz, California, led by Nane Alejandrez, Homies Unidos of Los Angeles now led by Alex Sanchez, and Gerardo Lopez in Denver, help people escape the streets and rebuild their lives. All three served time and were active gang members before dedicating themselves to saving the lives of youth in their communities. These are just a few examples of the many groups working tirelessly to reduce violence and save lives. They deserve recognition too.

However, Homeboy Industries stands out as a truly unique and remarkable organization. At its Los Angeles headquarters, you’ll see gang members from different neighborhoods and ethnicities working and meeting together. It’s the largest and most successful organization of its kind in the USA.

This institution offers a bakery (Homegirl’s Restaurant), counseling services, tattoo removal, employment development programs, and fosters a culture of positive change.

Over the years, G and his team, including seasoned gang leaders and others, have faced numerous challenges. Yet, at each obstacle, they’ve found a way not just to overcome them but to flourish.

Drugs, racism, violence, and oppression lurk at every corner, not just in the shadows but also in broad daylight, tempting and trying to recapture those trying to change.

padre Greg Boyle
Father Greg Boyle. (Photo: Provided)


Father Greg has had to bury too many extraordinary individuals who, under different circumstances, could and should have survived. Those who work with at-risk youth understand the pain of losing someone to violence or drugs. They say each death takes a little piece of your heart.

«I’ve buried 261 young people killed because of gang violence,» G explains, «often kids I loved who were killed by kids I love. As a homie said once, ‘Death is a punk.’ It’s necessary to put death in its place. Besides, how can death be the worst thing that can happen to us, if it will happen to all of us? Not knowing your truth… that’s way worse.»

While many believe discipline is crucial when working with gang members, G reminds us, «I think discipline is overrated. Flexibility… now that’s difficult.»

Over the years, G has faced resistance within the church, the political establishment and even from some law enforcement who didn’t, and some still don’t, accept the reality of Homeboy Industries’ success. Like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Sister Helen Prejean and Dorothy Day, he has had to stand tall and strong despite critics and challenges.

G credits Cesar Chavez, Pedro Arrupe (the incredible longtime head of the Jesuit order), a group of Jesuits, countless gang members and even mentions me (an unexpected honor, I must say).

Speaking of his work as a priest, G emphasizes, «God is compassionate, loving-kindness. We are called to be in the world who God is.»


Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, G’s wonderful book, takes us on his incredible journey to make a difference and learn compassion.

There’s also much to celebrate and enjoy. As G shares, «The homies say, ‘At Homeboy, we laugh from the stomach.’ My favorite thing.»

The last time we were together, as I walked toward the parking lot, I asked G for a blessing. He turned, smiling, patted me on the shoulder and said, «Magdaleno, it’s too late.»

Saving lives is a demanding but necessary task. Everyone can contribute to making a difference. Ordinary people can perform extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion.

Many religious and spiritual people travel to the Holy Land, Mecca, or other important sites. Homeboy Industries should be one of those sites to visit.


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