Equally Blessed pilgrims welcomed despite challenges

This story appears in the Francis in the United States feature series. View the full series.
From left, Marcia Graber, Debbie Carpenter, Jason Hernandez, Mary Freml, Rosa Manriquez, Delfin Bautista, John Freml, Nicole Santamaria, and Vilma Santamaria (Photo by Ryan Hoffmann)

From left, Marcia Graber, Debbie Carpenter, Jason Hernandez, Mary Freml, Rosa Manriquez, Delfin Bautista, John Freml, Nicole Santamaria, and Vilma Santamaria (Photo by Ryan Hoffmann)

by Ryan Hoffmann

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I had the honor this past week of working with the Equally Blessed pilgrims as they journeyed to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. These LGBT Catholic families bravely bore witness to a vision of church in which all are welcome, loved, and embraced for the experiences and gifts they offer the Catholic community. 

It is deeply disappointing the larger community gathered in Philadelphia was not afforded the same opportunity to engage and explore with these pilgrims, too. They were dismissed from giving workshops, rejected from having a presence in the exhibit hall, relegated to a Methodist church across the street, and nearly shut out of the one presentation on “same-sex attraction” that was officially allowed at the meeting.

Therein lies the disconnect at the World Meeting of Families. Beautiful imagery and messages of Pope Francis adorned the streets and the convention halls, “have the courage to be happy,” read one sign, “love is the measure of faith,” read another. Yet, on the ground, rigid ideology stamped out authentic dialogue and genuine encounter. If you toed the “official Catholic doctrine” line, you were in. We were out.

Francis has asked Catholics to work on the margins.  Equally Blessed boldly occupies this space, on the periphery and in the field hospital of the Catholic church. Once again, we found ourselves on the front lines of compassion and justice. So while we were rarely given the resources and access to fully dialogue with our fellow Catholics, it was necessary for us to be there. The pilgrims’ prophetic ministry was not in what they were able to say, but in who they were able to be -- their whole and holy, complete and healthy selves -- amidst a backdrop of hierarchical control tactics and fear.

Make no mistake, Catholics noticed. Most embraced their pilgrim brothers and sisters in faith. From the numerous moments of “we’re with you!” to the emotional conversations about their own family members who identify as LGBT, they wanted more. They wanted openness. They wanted safe spaces to delve into these types of Catholic family realities. And while they didn’t get it within the World Meeting of Families program, they found openness, honesty, and authenticity amongst their interactions with the pilgrims. It served, I think, as hope and refuge for many. A glimpse of what Gospel church is all about.

Shepherd One’s wheels by now have touched down back in Vatican City. For us, we must reflect on what the U.S. church will take away from Pope Francis’ visit. “What about you?” Pope Francis asked us this week. What about us? Will this be a moment of transformation for our domestic church or will we continue to be stymied in discontent and discord?

Pope Francis has taken his leave. It’s up to us now. All of us. Heeding the words and example of Pope Francis, the pilgrims, bold and faithful, are leading the way. Let’s choose transformation, together!  

[Ryan Hoffmann serves as director of communications at Call To Action. He was in Philadelphia covering the pilgrims’ experience at the 2015 World Meeting of Families. More information about the pilgrimage is available at  http://wmf.equallyblessed.org/blog.]  

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