When you tell people that you will be stopping over in Los Angeles as you travel south, the assumption is that you will go to Disneyland.
Well, I didn’t go even though I was just metres away from it for four days.
Instead, my dream was to visit the Jesuit parish of Dolores Mission in East LA, the foundation place for Fr Greg Boyle’s ministry “Homeboy Industries”.
Homeboy is the largest gang intervention program in the United States, and by extension the world, and works with gang members who have decided they want to get out of their situation and find a better life.
My colleagues were less than keen to drive into the most dangerous area of town, so it took some convincing that they needed to see a “Jesuit Ministry” and that it counted very much as work. But, after some tasty tacos at Homegirl Café, one of the many arms of Fr Boyle’s ministry, I convinced them that the Church was just around the corner, and we should check it out.
Fr Greg Boyle has been doing this work with gang members for over thirty years. A gifted storyteller, his book “Tattoos on the Heart” has you laughing and crying throughout.
As part of the LA Religious Education Congress, I attended a session where Fr Boyle shared stories of his work with the marginalised. Then, he said the youth mass. His opening line after the sign of the cross was a quip in his unique humour: “So, welcome to this youth mass. I see that there is a fair bit of grey hair out there, so I’m guessing they weren’t checking IDs at the door….hey, I got in!!”
The homily was a chance to preach on the Gospel of love and acceptance. His stories are moving, and there were plenty of tears spilling over in that room. Accompanied by the powerful music of Jesse Manibusan, it was a glimpse of the holy.
Tomorrow, I head to Nicaragua.
The LA Congress has been a beautiful preparation, a good transitional time.
I had the chance to speak Spanish and attend bilingual sessions.
I wandered around collecting resources to use with the children in the barrios of Managua and Asuncion.
I met one of my favourite Christian music artists Sarah Hart and interviewed her.
I met my favourite Jesuit writer Fr Jim Martin SJ and had lovely dinners with good friends from Australia and new friends in the States.
And, as only the Holy Spirit can facilitate, I ended up in Santa Ana at dinner with the Company of Mary Our Lady Sisters where I met my dear friend Iliana Cohan, one of the Paraguayan sisters I’ve known for three years. It’s these sisters I will work with for the next year, and I am so touched by their generosity.
A few shout outs to some amazing people that I met just in these days: Fr Jim McDermott SJ having known me for 24 hours gifted me with a beautiful book by Kerry Weber called “Mercy on the Streets: How to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned while keeping your day job”. I was so grateful to Fr Jim who thought of me, and for this beautiful detail of gifting me the book. I visited the America Magazine stall the next day and interviewed her also. I found Kerry to be an amazing woman in the heart of Dorothy Day, and incidentally, the same age as me!
The final session of the Congress I attended was Sr Xiskya (www.xiskya.com) who gave a Spanish presentation on photography for evangelisation. I learned so much in that hour and a half and will go to Nicaragua armed with ideas and inspiration.
I’m missing my cat Ezekiel terribly, and the family too.
There have been some teary moments and the loneliness will no doubt set in today.
My friends from JesCom left last night on parallel flights back to Melbourne, so I am on my own now.
Rest is on the agenda today. Maybe a little shopping….
And after all that? I’m a bit star struck. Having met and chatted with people I have admired for years, the absence of Mickey Mouse doesn’t even feature in my reflective dialogue 🙂