By Michael J. ARVIZU
Religious leaders from the Crescenta Valley and neighboring communities and about 200 guests gathered on Thursday at the YMCA of the Foothills in La Cañada for the 2013 early-morning Community Prayer Breakfast.
As is common practice, the program gives community religious leaders an opportunity to offer prayers in their native tongues. Prayers were offered in Armenian and Korean, as well as English, for the world and nation, as well as for the state and city.
Prior to his opening prayer, Christian Life Church in La Crescenta Pastor Randy Foster revealed, to thunderous applause, that his church will formally break ground for a new sanctuary at a special service on Nov. 24, almost seven years after the church’s 1951 worship space was destroyed in a massive fire that damaged part of the church school as well.
“I am known as the pastor of the church that burned down,” Foster joked afterward.
Elaine Cho from La Cañada United Methodist Church said in her opening remarks as she prepared to deliver a prayer for the nation in Korean and English, joked about the early-morning hour of the prayer breakfast.
“There are two types of people in this world,” she said. “One type says, ‘Good morning, Lord!’ And the other type says, ‘Good Lord, it’s morning!’”
But the highlight for many was the keynote address given by Father Gregory Boyle, founder and CEO of downtown Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries. The gang intervention organization was founded in 1988 while Boyle was serving as pastor of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights. The organization seeks to provide rehab and re-entry programs for youth, such as job placement.
“Today you will have the opportunity to hear someone who has the ear of God,” said prayer breakfast master of ceremonies Andy Beattie of Boyle. “And God’s hand rests upon him. He has changed the lives of families, of children.”
Boyle is also author of The New York Times bestselling book, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.” In this no-holds-barred book, the Jesuit priest chronicles his interactions with his gang youth as he goes about ministering to them and running Homeboy Industries.
Boyle’s talks are based mostly on the stories found in the book, which can be heartwarming one moment, heart wrenching the next and are filled with Latin American gang slang and anecdotes.
“You hope that people will always connect to a larger love, something beyond their own little circle so that they will widen the circle and more people will be included,” Boyle said of his talks, which he gives around the country. “If that means somebody here can employ somebody, that would be nice.”
Boyle, as he opened his keynote, revealed that as of last month, he has buried his 183rd “kid,” as he puts it.
Boyle keeps count, he said, in order to remind people that every individual he has buried was a person, and they deserve to be recognized as such, no matter what they have done.
“I count because they kind of don’t matter in the world,” Boyle said. “And I count because I want them to count. I started doing that a long time ago, and I never stopped so that it will matter to people.”
Given some of the horrors at the hands of violence Boyle has seen working among the gang youth in and out of Homeboy Industries, speaking in a public venue about his experiences, he said, somewhat soothes the harsh memories.
“Sometimes things will hit me,” he said.
Homeboy Industries, Boyle said, is one of the largest gang intervention and rehabilitation programs in the world, a statement to which he received applause. Each year, he said, about 46,000 young men and women seek the services of its free tattoo removal facilities.
The organization also offers job training programs through its Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Cafe Catering and Homegirl Cafe Catering programs (the latter two programs provided catering services for the annual prayer breakfast) as well as a solar panel installation training and certification program, and legal and case management services, among other services.
Mountain View Baptist Church in Lake View Terrace Pastor Scott E. Brown felt a personal connection to Boyle’s talk. As an employee of the United States Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 20 years ago, Brown was shot in the back by a 14-year-old gang member on the street. His job, as he remembers it, was “to fight gang bangers.”
Brown gives credit to Boyle for his work changing the lives of youth amid so much violence.
“To see the love that changed those hearts, it’s just amazing,” Brown said tearfully after Boyle’s talk. “It’s just so pleasing to be able to hear someone as Father Boyle, someone who has changed the lives of those people so that they don’t hate, so there isn’t as much violence. My heart went out to him. It was an awe-inspiring thing.
“My life has been blessed just by today.”