Once again, we’re reading one of those Los Angeles Times’ “great reads” stories from A1, in this case a long feature about an unusual individual who has some involvement with religion.
Such is this story on a Los Angeles priest who has mentored gang members for three decades. It sounds like a thankless job for someone with a deep calling to be in a difficult place. Here's the interesting question: It's a story about a priest, but is there a faith element in here somewhere?
We start here:
In a small mortuary in East Los Angeles, a mother wept over the silver casket holding her son. Behind the pews, photos of Roger Soriano showed a young man throwing up gang signs with friends, a tattoo reading "J13" for Jardin 13 etched into his scalp.
He had been killed at 21, shot dead as he allegedly tried to rob a shopkeeper.
Behind the pulpit on that July day, the priest betrayed no strain in conjuring up virtues from the short arc of a life that had ended so messily.
"I knew Roger when he was a little kid and later on when he was a teenager, and you could always see the goodness. Always," Father Greg Boyle said. "Where Roger is right now, he has the same perspective that God has. The same God that is too busy loving us to be disappointed."
For decades now, young men who died by the gun have gotten their final benediction from Boyle, who began as a fresh-faced, thirtysomething priest in an era when the City of Angels churned out gang carnage on an industrial scale, inspiring movies such as "Boyz n the Hood" and "Colors" and making "drive-by" part of the country's lexicon.
One pet peeve for starters: the correct term for clergy when first mentioned -- we call this "on first reference" -- is always “the Rev.” this or that. It’s not “Father,” according to the Associated Press Stylebook, the bible of correct terms for journalists.
The story chronicles how the priest has been battling leukemia for the past decade and thus has had to curb his ambitions to fill the ghettos with jobs for gang members. The police misunderstand him because of his priestly closeness to disenfranchised young men.
We learn early in the story that Boyle is a Jesuit. I wish the reporter could have reminded readers this is same religious order that produced the current pope. It would have put some flesh on the social justice issues behind why Boyle is where he is.
Search around the Internet and you discover this priest has a very impressive bio plus he and I share a birthday (May 19). Little of that career background gets into the story.
Like I said, what’s also missing is any spiritual side to this priest and his, well, ministry. The way he’s written up for this story, he could just as well be a counselor, social worker or a parent to one of the kids, so sparse is the religious content. Did the priest mention God much and the reporter not note it down? Or did the reporter insert more faith in the story only to have it removed by an editor? If Boyle himself didn’t say much about his faith, why didn’t the reporter ask him?
The bottom line: Journalists ask celebrities and politicians all the time about what motivates and drives them. Why not clergy?
The reporter did try to insert something in there to remind us this is a Catholic ministry even though the word "Catholic" is not in the story:
Miguel was just one of dozens of people, mostly young men and teenage boys, who took a seat in front of Boyle's desk that Wednesday. They confided in Boyle like they would a priest inside a church confessional. He called each of them "mijo" or "mija," and gave them a hug. Some he handed cash to help them out.
I am guessing that Boyle, for whatever reason, didn’t say a whole lot about his beliefs to the reporter. He's not a traditional minister; looking at his Twitter feed, I had to scroll down quite a ways before seeing one photo of him in clerical garb.
This must be frustrating to some folks who are constantly weathering criticism about their church doing too much for the unborn but not doing enough for people once they’re born. Here’s someone who’s worn himself out to the point of getting cancer on the part of the already-born and no credit goes to the institution behind the man.
So we're not talking about a religion ghost in terms of faith being totally left out of the story. What we do see is a secular version of a man of God.
Read a portion of his book and you'll see a lot more of his hope that the worst sinners can be redeemed. Mother Teresa was out there on the streets as well, but she always managed to interject something of the hope that was within her to those who asked. It's not that hard for reporters interviewing 21st century versions of the Calcutta saint to also ask why they do what they do. There is that "why" reference in the classic "who, what, when, where, why and how."