October 29, 2001

American priest helps Honduran street children shed tattoos

                 TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) -- A Roman Catholic priest from North
                 Carolina is trying to give Honduran street children a better chance in life --
                 by removing their tattoos.

                 Gang members have been blamed for much of Honduras' violence, and their
                 graphic tattoos often keep them from getting jobs or an education, says David La
                 Buda, parish priest at Santisima Trinidad Church in Chamelecon, 125 miles north of

                 La Buda opened his clinic in December in the small, poor community of 10,000
                 people, most of whom work in clothing factories.

                 So far, La Buda's program, called "Goodbye Tattoos," has erased the markings of
                 at least 6,000 children. His ultimate goal: to remove more than 90,000 tattoos.

                 "Our mission is simple: We only say goodbye to the tattoos that young people
                 have," he said. "The kids get these drawings to identify themselves with gangs and
                 survive a hostile environment. But after, they decide to get rid of them."

                 Most of the unwanted tattoos pay tribute to satanic worship. Some of the most
                 common figures removed from necks, arms, chests and legs include the numbers
                 666, long black serpents, upside-down crosses and the burning face of the devil, La
                 Buda said.

                 He said body art holds many young people back, even after they decide to leave the
                 violent life of the street and search for jobs or an education.

                 "Goodbye Tattoos is an option for the thousands of adolescents that don't want to
                 have a tattoo on their body," he said, adding that his program "serves the large
                 number of adolescents who are, little by little, rejoining society."

                 La Buda, 57, came to Honduras in 1985 from Goldsboro, N.C. He began his
                 program with the help of a friend, Dr. Richard Tamisiea of Wilmington, N.C.

                 After receiving training in San Antonio, Texas, La Buda removed tattoos with the
                 help of his nurse and assistant, Suyapa Bonilla. Their clinic uses infrared rays
                 instead of lasers to remove body art because the process is less risky for the
                 still-developing bodies of his young clients, La Buda said.

                 Julia Alvarado, a 15-year-old former gang member in Chamelecon, decided to get
                 rid of tattoos on her arms that featured a bloodthirsty black snake and a satanic
                 five-pointed star.

                 "This changed my life, and now I'm going to school," Alvarado said. "Soon I will
                 be a primary school teacher."

                 (Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.