Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fr. Greg Boyle keynotes Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., executive director of Homeboy Industries, author of Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion and longtime advocate for the poor and marginalized, was the keynote speaker for Loyola Law School's 12th-annual celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday, Jan. 20 in Loyola's Student Lounge. Watch a video clip of Fr. Boyle's speech.

Below is a copy of the introductory remarks provided by Professor Sam Pillsbury, Loyola's interfaith chaplain:

For 12 years we have been celebrating the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King at Loyola Law school by connecting his work and the movement he helped lead, with the world of law.

We are thrilled today to have as our speaker one whose life and work embodies the mission of Rev. King., Father Greg Boyle, Society of Jesus.

Father Boyle is a Los Angeles native. He comes from a big LA family, one of eight children. He is the product of Jesuit education, having graduated from Loyola High School, received a BA from Gonzaga and a Masters in English from our own LMU -- among his several advanced degrees.

Our speaker has long ministered to those on the margins, those without much money or power, and who receive little respect or regard from those with money and power. Serving at Dolores Mission Church in East Los Angeles in the 1980s, Father Greg found himself in the middle of some of the city's most violent conflicts. He engaged directly with the gangs of the city, work that inspired many years of effort to encourage young people to turn away from that violent and destructive alternative to real family and community. This led to the creation of Homeboy Industries, an extraordinary and nearly unique nonprofit devoted to restoring to society those who have been in gangs.

Fr. Boyle's ministry has taken him out into the streets and parks of Los Angeles, into apartments and homes, modest and not so modest, and it has taken him into those hard places that most of us hear about but do not actually see, into the detention halls and jails of Los Angeles and the prisons of California. In those hard places, Father G or just G as he is sometimes called, with his boyish smile and bright eyes, his jokes, and his simple concern, brings the warmth of compassion and the transforming power of connection.

But you might ask, what's all this stuff about a Catholic priest and gangs in LA have to do with Dr Martin Luther King who died in Memphis in 1968 supporting striking black garbage workers?

Just -- everything. It's a continuation of the same story, the same struggle, fueled by the same faith. It's all about the same struggle to build what King called the beloved community.

The civil rights movement of the mid-20th century had three driving forces: the law, the young, and the church. First came the lawyers, people like Thurgood Marshall, whose courtroom successes set the stage for the direct action campaigns of King and others. Then there were the students, the young people who surprised their elders with their courage and creativity, with their sit ins and freedom rides and marches down the streets of Birmingham straight into jail.

And then there was the church, specifically the black church, the black church of the south, which raised up so many leaders, lay and clergy, which provided organization, secure locations, loyal volunteers, and above all else, faith. This church nurtured a deep faith that the promises of Scripture and the Declaration of Independence alike could be fulfilled, that there would be true freedom for all, dignity for all, without regard to race, status or wealth, the faith that gave so many the strength to face down hate without becoming hate-full themselves.

The same message is found in Fr Boyle's new book, Tattoos On the Heart. He writes in his conclusion: "And so the voices at the margins get heard and the circle of compassion widens. Souls feeling their worth, refusing to forget that we belong to each other. No bullet can pierce this."

I ask you to listen closely to our speaker today. I expect that you will be moved, enlightened and even entertained. Which is good. But I ask you to listen for the challenge in this man's work, for what it says to each one of us, for how each one of us should live and work.

Please join me in welcoming, Fr. Greg Boyle.

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