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The State

The Care He Has Given Returns to Ailing Priest

An outpouring of love buoys Father Gregory Boyle, healer of a troubled community.

June 07, 2003|Teresa Watanabe | Times Staff Writer

The new bakery, Boyle says, will add 41 jobs for gang members trying to turn around their lives. Homeboy Industries operates five businesses -- silk-screening and embroidery, merchandising, graffiti removal, maintenance and the bakery -- that have employed 500 youths since opening in 1992. Its parent organization, Jobs For A Future, offers services ranging from job placement to counseling.

"This is what a community of faith is all about: putting a welcome mat out to those others find easy to despise," said Boyle, whose critics say he "coddles" gang members.

Despite the energy displayed this week, Boyle says he has pared back his normally frenetic speaking schedule and cut out virtually all of his night visits to juvenile hall and other places. On Monday, he is scheduled to start more chemotherapy, which earlier prompted painful allergic reactions.

But Boyle finds humor in his circumstances. The day the disease was diagnosed, he went home and told Father Michael Kennedy -- his housemate, fellow Jesuit and Dolores Mission's current pastor -- the doctor's warning: "Prepare yourself for the most harrowing time of your life."

The two men stared at each other as the words hung heavily in the air. Then they started howling.

"Death and life-threatening illness are not even on my top 10 list of things I dread," Boyle said. "How are we going to pay our bills on Friday? That's real-life dread."

He says he is ready for death at any moment and will feel "completely peaceful" about it. Especially since he's caught a glimpse of what he thinks heaven must be like.

That occurred last month, when Homeboy Industries held its first baseball tournament and company picnic. More than 120 people showed up, most of them from 29 gangs. Boyle knew the stories behind each young man: that this guy was in a wheelchair because he had been shot by that guy, that these two homeboys giving each other high-fives had, at one time, been shooting at each other.

Now here they all were, playing and picnicking together.

"For some people, it was a baseball game. For me, it was a deeply religious, extraordinary experience," Boyle said. "It was a real deep sense that this is what God had in mind: that enemies will be friends, and heaven won't be too different."

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