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Father Greg Boyle is in the business of erasing the past. A Jesuit priest, he is the founder and director of Homeboy Industries in East Los Angeles.

Father Boyle put together a team of physicians trained in the laser technology of tattoo removal. The team is part of a program that takes the tattoos of ex-gang members and wipes the slate clean.

For many, it is as crucial a service as it is merciful. Gang-related tattoos prevent many former gang members from getting jobs or advancing in work. For others, the markings critically impinge on mental health or put them in serious danger on the streets.

There is no fee or community service required to receive the tattoo removal offered by Homeboy Industries. It is strictly a gift--perhaps a modern look at Christ washing the feet of his friends. At one time, there was a waiting list of over a thousand names. For those involved, the spiritual imagery is often compelling. The seeming permanence of a gang tattoo fosters the attitude that the gang's claim is also permanent. It is a mark of ownership as much as identity. The emotional consequence is that it seems a part of you that can never be shaken.

Like former gang members who have had the marks of a former life removed, so our sins are blotted out by the blood of Christ. They are remembered no longer.

(Jill Carattini, "A Slice of Infinity," No. 1186, 6-23-06.)

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