Mercy Home and several faith, educational, and community organizations co-sponsored a gathering at a packed St. Barnabas Church that addressed the city’s epidemic of violence. The event was hosted by the Southside Catholic Peace and Justice Committee as part of its You Are My Neighbor event series.

After a welcome by St. Barnabas Pastor Fr. James Donovan, and a rendition of “We Are Called” by the St. Barnabas Choir, organizer Maureen Gainer Reilly said that the series was born of a desire to do the real work of the Church, adding that “love your neighbor is a command.”

The lineup of speakers included local Chicago changemakers and former Los Angeles gang members who have found new life and direction through Homeboy Industries, a California-based gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program. Author and Homeboy Industries founder, Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., headlined the event. Fr. Boyle argued that the best violence prevention program is one that helps address past trauma and encourage connectedness for those who are poor, powerless, and voiceless.

“You want to imagine a circle of compassion and imagine no one sitting outside it,” he said, adding that we need to continue to go to the margins until the margins disappear.

“We stand with the demonized so that the demonization will stop,” Fr. Boyle said. “We stand with the disposable so that we stop throwing people away.”

“We stand with the demonized so that the demonization will stop,” Fr. Boyle said. “We stand with the disposable so that we stop throwing people away.”

Following the 1992 Lost Angeles Riots, during what Fr. Boyle termed “the decade of death,” he began what would become Homeboy Industries in the Boyle Heights area, which had the highest concentration of gangs in the city. According to Fr. Boyle, the successes that the organization has had in transforming the lives of former felons and gang members there has a lesson for us in our own efforts to end the violence we see in Chicago.

The “secret sauce,” he said, was creating “a community of tenderness where people can find relief from chronic stress, and becoming the sanctuary they sought.”

He said that participants bring that spirit home with them, breaking cycles that give rise to violence.

Fr. Boyle wrote about his work and experiences in the New York Times best-seller Tattoos On The Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.

Fr. Scott and several coworkers who were in attendance were moved by the discussion, which included a number of emotionally powerful stories about individuals Fr. Boyle has met during the course of his ministry. “I’ve had the privilege of hearing Fr. Boyle speak on a number of occasions,” Fr. Scott said. “He has truly integrated the Gospel message to reach out and embrace those who live on the margins of society and recognizes all as brothers and sisters in this family that we call our human race.”

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