Standing on the Margins

Standing on the Margins

Fr. Boyle headlines inaugural Mission Week with a call for kinship

The Rev. Greg Boyle, SJ, HON’09, stood in front of a packed audience at St. John’s Church and told the story of a young man who had faced unimaginable abuse.

As a child, the young man had worn three T-shirts to school; three, because two weren’t enough to sop up the blood from the wounds inflicted by his mother. Kids made fun of him, and even when he was grown, the man felt ashamed of his scars.

But years later, as he spoke in front of an audience of social workers at Fr. Boyle’s behest, the man said he no longer felt ashamed: “I rub my fingers over my scars. My wounds are my friends. How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”

The man, Fr. Boyle told the crowd at St. John’s, spoke the key truth of spiritual mission work: “The measure of our compassion lies not in our service to those on the margins, but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them,” Fr. Boyle said. “For the truth of the matter is this: If we don’t welcome our own wounds, we may well be tempted to despise the wounded.”

Fr. Boyle, founder and executive director of Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries and author of Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir, spoke Sept. 9 at St. John’s to kick off Creighton’s inaugural Mission Week.

Beginning this year, the University selects one week during the fall semester for the campus community to reflect on Creighton’s Ignatian heritage and spirituality. During this year’s Mission Week, Sept. 9-13, the University and Omaha community partners came together at several events to listen, learn, reflect and explore themes which emerge from Creighton’s Jesuit, Catholic mission.

After opening remarks from Eileen Burke-Sullivan, STD, MChrSp’84, vice provost for Mission and Ministry, and Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, Fr. Boyle presented on his experiences working with former gang members at his nonprofit, Homeboy Industries.

Founded by Fr. Boyle in East Los Angeles in the late 1980s, Homeboy Industries offers job training and other services to former gang members and people who have been incarcerated. The organization employs its clients in social enterprises — including a bakery, catering service and diner — that teach essential career development skills while also offering an alternative to gang life.

Fr. Boyle told several stories — some tragic, some hilarious — about the people he’s encountered in his work. One anecdote involved a parolee named Glenda, working as a waitress in one of Homeboy Industries’ programs, who, upon meeting actress Diane Keaton, told the actress she recognized her from their time together in lockup.

But Fr. Boyle bookended his presentation with a challenge for the University community, one that rang especially true during Mission Week: Stand with the people at the margins.

“You want to imagine a community of kinship such that God in fact might recognize it,” Fr. Boyle said. “No kinship, no peace. No kinship, no justice. No kinship, no equality, no matter how singularly focused we may well be on those worthy goals.”

Service, he said, is a start: “Service is the hallway that gets you to the ballroom. And the ballroom is a place of kinship and exquisite mutuality where there is no us, and there is no them.”

Only then, he said, can we truly embrace the things Jesus himself took seriously: “Inclusion. Nonviolence. Unconditional loving kindness. And compassionate acceptance,” Fr. Boyle said. “That’s not so much what we do at the margins, that’s who we are at the margins. And then we look under our feet, and we notice (the margins) are getting erased. Because we chose to stand there.”