- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

LOS ANGELES — At first, they thought the priest riding his bike through the night and chatting it up with the guys on the street was crazy. They figured he’d go away, like others who tried to stop gang violence in the neighborhood.

But the Rev. Greg Boyle stayed. He visited the gang members in jail and vouched for them to judges. He dodged bullets to break up fights and once tried to wrestle a semiautomatic rifle from the hands of a gang leader. He helped thousands of young men remove tattoos, get jobs and restart their lives.

Since he arrived in Boyle Heights 20 years ago, the Jesuit priest has hosted dignitaries from Senegal to Australia, fended off numerous requests to franchise his programs and seen his life story optioned by Hollywood twice.

Now Father Boyle, 50, is branching out from the neglected East Los Angeles community to a downtown location that reflects his desire to bring together the region’s diverse youth. He plans to build a bakery, cafe and office in a swath of parking lots and abandoned fields between two of the city’s most visible ethnic landmarks, Chinatown and the historic Mexican Olvera plaza.

The new center will give Father Boyle a more prominent platform from which to spread his message that “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

“It becomes a symbol for the nation, for ‘What if you invested here, in these folks who want to turn around their life?’” he said. “This is true in every city in the nation.”

The move comes as Father Boyle is rebounding from a year of setbacks.

His frenetic pace slowed after a diagnosis with leukemia, which is now in remission. Two of his employees were killed on the job — a first for Homeboy Industries, Father Boyle’s job-training program.

His flannel shirts, Mexican belts, tall frame and trim white beard give the look of an affable lumberjack, but his tough love and “Spanglish” street slang earned Father Boyle the moniker “G-Dog.”

“The day won’t ever come when … my life presents difficulties or obstacles the likes of which these folks haven’t encountered,” he said.

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