After last year’s riots, I, like others, was looking for a way to become more actively involved in our local community. I was made aware of the work of Father Gregory Boyle at Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights. It was pointed out to me that, although this neighborhood is the most densely populated with juvenile gangs in Los Angeles and had one of the highest rates of gang-related deaths, not one of this area’s gangs joined in the rioting. Over the past several years, gang-related crime has been actually on the decrease in this area. This has been attributed, in part, or in whole, to Boyle and his one-on-one interactions with individual gang members and their families. I was especially drawn by his theory that “nothing stops a bullet like a job,” and was impressed with the results he seemed to get from finding jobs for these young men.
Boyle left Los Angeles in the fall to complete various requirements before taking his final vows as a Jesuit priest. It was understood that in June Boyle was scheduled for reassignment, but it was widely assumed that he would be returned to Dolores Mission for all the obvious reasons. That has not occurred, and according to the Rev. Paul Belcher, Boyle’s superior, it is a closed issue and out of the question. After repeated organized and passionate appeals from the residents of Pico-Aliso and gang members, the community has had to accept Belcher’s decision as final. As a result, many of the “recovering gang members” who were taking their first steps away from gangbanging and toward responsible citizenship have experienced a profound sense of loss and betrayal.
I understand that Boyle just recently completed an assignment in a Mexican penal colony where he worked stomping mud and straw into adobe bricks!
I am not one to argue with the esoteric beliefs of such a highly respected organization as the Jesuits--I’m sure there is some philosophical (albeit irrational) reason for not returning Father Greg, but as a result, the community is sadly going backward. Violence is escalating, there are shootings every day now, and it’s only a matter of time before the community returns fully to a cycle of poverty and failure.
An associate of mine who attended the very dramatic meeting on Feb. 21, between the Dolores Mission community and Belcher, tells me that almost worse than the message that Boyle would not be allowed to return, was the manner in which this message was delivered. Belcher responded to the neighborhood’s pleas in a a very dismissive and unsympathetic way.
When asked specifically, “Why won’t you return Father Boyle to Mission Dolores?” he responded, “I don’t feel that’s anything I wish to discuss with you.” We feel that the most permanent damage to these young men is not just the absence of Boyle, but the message made loud and clear by Belcher that their needs were of no importance, or at least not as important as the good reverend’s personal agenda.
Although I realize that these young men should be educated to understand that the loss of one trusted leader should not represent to them total abandonment, these boys have not had time to grow in the safety and trust of Father Greg’s work with them. He should be allowed to return, at least until this very vulnerable, young generation is at work and on their feet.
The situation poses an interesting conflict between church regimen and responsibility to community. I feel its effects are going to be much deeper and more far-reaching than anyone realizes; anyone, of course, except those people in Boyle Heights who must continue to live there now under such terrifying conditions.