72 pages 2 hours read

Gregory Boyle

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 2009

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Summary and Study Guide


Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (2010) is a memoir written by Catholic priest Gregory (Greg) Boyle. The memoir relays Boyle’s experiences serving as the leader of the Dolores Mission Church in the gang capital of the world, Los Angeles. Boyle, a Jesuit, performed his earliest missionary work in an impoverished Bolivian village. There, Boyle gained two lifelong attributes: an unyielding desire to help the poor and the ability to speak Spanish, both of which would define his later ministry efforts.

After returning from his mission to Bolivia, Boyle requested for his next transfer to be to an area where he could continue to directly focus on helping the poor; Boyle’s wish was promptly granted in 1986 when he was assigned to minister at the Dolores Mission Church, which was located in the poorest parish in Los Angeles. Once there, it did not take Boyle long to see how gang violence was crippling the lives of many in the community, so Boyle made a commitment to himself to make a concerted effort to help change gang members’ lives for the better. Boyle would treat them like humans, whereas everyone else seemed to treat them like lepers.

Boyle began to go into the streets around Dolores and ask gang members what they wanted most, and they always gave the same response: a job. Boyle started the non-profit organization Homeboy Industries, which helped gang members attain jobs, get tattoos removed, and seek higher education. What started off as small operation soon blossomed into a huge enterprise that helped thousands of gang members find jobs and leave their former lifestyles behind.

Tattoos on the Heart weaves numerous anecdotes together, all of which were derived from Boyle’s personal experiences while serving as the leader of Dolores Mission Church and Homeboy Industries. The book’s themes, which include both redemption and tragedy, point the way for a new understanding of gang members as humans no less worthy of God’s love than anyone else. The themes of kinship and compassion run through nearly every page of the work, as Boyle explains that the best way to truly reach the hearts and minds of “homies” is to show them love, hope, and compassion.

In the end, Boyle refuses to say whether or not his efforts to help homies and homegirls have been “successful,” as he is merely following his faith.

This guide uses the 2010 edition by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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