Gang-rehabilitating priest awarded US Presidential Medal of Freedom

Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The White House has awarded Jesuit priest Father Greg Boyle the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries – a prominent ministry dedicated to rehabilitating gang-affiliated youth.

A new ministry

Immediately after his 1980 ordination, Boyle set about finding ways to give a second chance to ex-gang members and former prisoners.

He was pastor of Dolores Mission, a Catholic church and school that had one of the highest concentrations of gang activity in Los Angeles.

Six years later – just after the Los Angeles riots – he extended the ministry and founded Homeboy Industries.

It included the Homeboy Bakery where former prisoners and former gang members learned skills and got the chance to make changes in their lives.

Homeboy today

Thirty-six years later, that first social enterprise business has evolved into 13 social enterprises Homeboy Industries says.

It claims to be the United States’ largest gang-intervention programme.

The nonprofit uses its $40 million budget to provide services and support to 10,000 people annually.

The nationwide ministry offers training and job skills to those formerly involved in gangs or in jail. Other services include case management, tattoo removal, mental health and legal services, and General Educational Development completion.

Homeboys Industries officials say Boyle “exemplifies the transformative power of compassion, forgiveness and second chances.

“For nearly forty years Father Greg has empowered hundreds of thousands of individuals to break free from the cycles of poverty, violence and incarceration.”

Although the group says it is “not affiliated with any particular religion” it notes many of its works are “in line with the Jesuit practice of social justice”.

Homeboy does not seek to “downplay” its Catholic identity, Boyle says. In fact, several years ago he described the ministry as “soaked with the Gospel”.

The award

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the United States’ highest civilian honour. This year, 19 people including Boyle received the award at a special White House ceremony on 3 May.

President Joe Biden – also a Catholic – presented the medals to the recipients.

White House officials say the medal is presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the country’s prosperity, values, security, world peace and other significant societal, public and private endeavours.

The honorees “built teams, coalitions, movements, organisations and businesses that shaped America for the better” the White House notes.

“They are the pinnacle of leadership in their fields. They consistently demonstrated over their careers the power of community, hard work and service.”

Other Catholic honourees to be presented the Medal of Freedom this year include former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State John Kerry. Both are known for their pro-abortion advocacy.

In 2020, Boyle was one of several hundred religious leaders who signed an endorsement of Biden’s campaign.

He also called for the Church to “include with more compassion our LGBTQ sisters and brothers”.


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