Tattoos on the Heart

The Power of Boundless Compassion

Tattoos on the Heart

Father Gregory Boyle’s sparkling parables about kinship and the sacredness of life are drawn from twenty years working with gangs in LA.

How do you fight despair and learn to meet the world with a loving heart? How do you overcome shame? Stay faithful in spite of failure? No matter where people live or what their circumstances may be, everyone needs boundless, restorative love. Gorgeous and uplifting, Tattoos on the Heart amply demonstrates the impact unconditional love can have on your life.

As a pastor working in a neighborhood with the highest concentration of murderous gang activity in Los Angeles, Gregory Boyle created an organization to provide jobs, job training, and encouragement so that young people could work together and learn the mutual respect that comes from collaboration. Tattoos on the Heart is a breathtaking series of parables distilled from his twenty years in the barrio. Arranged by theme and filled with sparkling humor and glowing generosity, these essays offer a stirring look at how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally. From giant, tattooed Cesar, shopping at JCPenney fresh out of prison, we learn how to feel worthy of God’s love. From ten-year-old Lula we learn the importance of being known and acknowledged. From Pedro we understand the kind of patience necessary to rescue someone from the darkness. In each chapter we benefit from Boyle’s wonderful, hard-earned wisdom. Inspired by faith but applicable to anyone trying to be good, these personal, unflinching stories are full of surprising revelations and observations of the community in which Boyle works and of the many lives he has helped save.

Erudite, down-to-earth, and utterly heartening, these essays about universal kinship and redemption are moving examples of the power of unconditional love in difficult times and the importance of fighting despair. With Gregory Boyle’s guidance, we can recognize our own wounds in the broken lives and daunting struggles of the men and women in these parables and learn to find joy in all of the people around us. Tattoos on the Heart reminds us that no life is less valuable than another.
  • Free Press | 
  • 240 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439153024 | 
  • March 2010


Former Gang Members and Father Greg Boyle talk about TATTOOS ON THE HEART

Father Gregory Boyle’s sparkling parables about kinship and the sacredness of life are drawn from twenty years of working with gangs in LA.

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Tattoos on the Heart includes discussion questions, and a Q&A with author Greg Boyle. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the

Topics & Questions for Discussion

• Rival gang members worked side by side in Greg’s firsthumanitarian business venture, Homeboy Bakery. How didthis unusual arrangement—enemies working together—play out? Can you think of ways this approach might workin a different context of conflict?

• Greg talks about offering opportunities, not to people whoneed help but to those who want it. What difference do youthink this makes?

• Elias Montes accepts an award on Greg’s behalf and saysto the audience, “Because Father Greg and HomeboyIndustries believed in me, I decided to believe in myself.“Greg himself writes, “Sometimes resilience arrives in themoment you discover your own unshakeable goodness.”For all their bravado, a lot of the gang members are deeplyvulnerable and insecure—how does Greg approach thiscontradiction?

• Greg writes, “Kinship [is] not serving the other, but beingone with the other. Jesus was not ‘a man for others’; he wasone with them.” How are the two different, and how doesGreg integrate this distinction into his work?

• How does life in a gang—which
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About the Author

Gregory Boyle
Photograph © Maury Phillios

Gregory Boyle

Father Gregory Boyle was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1982. He received his Master of Divinity from the Weston School of Theology and a Sacred Theology Masters degree from the Jesuit School of Theology. In 1988, Father Boyle began what would become Homeboy Industries, now located in downtown Los Angeles. Fr. Greg received the California Peace Prize, the “Humanitarian of the Year” Award from Bon Appétit; the Caring Institute’s 2007 Most Caring People Award; and received the 2008 Civic Medal of Honor from the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.