I just got back from an amazing trip to Los Angeles, where four of us from Chaplains on the Harbor visited Homeboy Industries, an organization that works with ex-gang members from east L.A. and gives them jobs and support.
Homeboy started when a Catholic priest, Father Greg (or Father G, as everyone calls him) got to know the young men and women surrounding his parish. He did their funerals, showed up at the hospital when they got shot, broke up fights between rival gangs, and visited them in jail. Eventually, he wanted to find jobs for them and, because no one wanted to hire the young felons he worked alongside, they started a bakery. Now, Homeboy employs around 200 people and trains other organizations to start similar enterprises.
While I was in Los Angeles, I also got to visit St Lucy’s Catholic Church, which is where George Yepes painted the mural on which I based my tattoo. It is a beautiful image of the Virgen of Guadalupe weeping and holding the body of a dead child (like Mary once held Jesus). It was powerful for me to visit.
The Virgen of Guadalupe has been an important part of my faith journey. When, in my early 20s, I hit some pretty rough spots in my life and decided that the church had done me more harm than good (which, honestly, it had), it was the Virgen who inspired me to a new kind a faith. Instead of a faith full of harsh judgment of myself and others, I found a faith rooted and grounded in all of life. I found a God who loved, unconditionally. I found a faith that revealed itself to the suffering, the poor, the hurting, just like in the story, when the Virgen of Guadalupe had revealed herself to Juan Diego, a poor farmer under Spanish occupation. And I found a God that always, always took the side of the poor and suffering.
My tattoo is part of that journey. And as we have lost so many people over the past year, I wanted a way to remember them, to say their names, to pay my respects to people I was honored to know. And to remember that they are safe in the arms of a loving God and la Virgen who cries with us.
Life and death. Hope and heartache. Its part of each of our lives, as we walk this path of faith.