BY AJ TRAGER
Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations that has spent more than 120 years working on behalf of LGBT people and their families, has planned a number of events, including an LGBT pilgrimage for the pope’s visit to the U.S. in late September.
Equally Blessed — comprised of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families and New Ways Ministry — will host a pilgrimage to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, which runs from Sept. 22-27, and has planned educational and outreach LGBT events during the week.
The group was scheduled to host their events at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church during the World Meeting of Families, however after the Archbishop of Philadelphia received the programming in mid-August he decided to pull “the rug out from underneath us,” John Freml, coordinator for the Equally Blessed Coalition, told BTL. The Arch Street United Methodist Church then graciously opened their doors to the group.
“The pleasant but unintended consequences are we are actually closer to the convention now, and we will have more chances to interact with people outside the convention center,” Freml added.
Lui Francesco is one of 22 LGBT pilgrims from more than a dozen families from around the U.S. that have signed up to stay in Philadelphia and be among the estimated 1.5 million people who will flock to the city for the papal visit. He has lived all over the world but has spent his adult life living in Detroit. He currently serves as a new Vision Council board member at Call To Action, as a member of the CTA Anti-Racism Team, as an organizer for CTA 20/30 of Michigan, as a newly elected board member for Michigan Coalition of Human Rights, and as an interpreter/translator.
Francesco is a practicing, young adult Catholic who plans on going to Philadelphia to discuss, with as many people as possible, the importance of trans inclusivity within the church, to raise visibility of trans Catholics and to show how diverse the trans community really is.
“I hope to be the voice and the visual for trans Catholics who are not able to come out. I want to help put a face on the word ‘transgender,’ so people and (the Catholic) hierarchy can start to see us as fellow members of faith,” Francesco said.
Francesco came from a different faith in an area where, he says, religious freedom wasn’t fully enforced. He couldn’t get baptized until he came to the U.S.
“I do have my dream from childhood to become a Franciscan monk (or Capuchin Franciscan friar). However, I haven’t found any order that would accept me as a monk as of now yet,” Francesco said. “I know I probably won’t see a day where I will be accepted as a monk due to my trans status. However, I wish that someday all people of all genders can be fully included within the Catholic Church. Because the call of the Holy Spirit is valid, and it doesn’t become less valid just because of one’s gender or gender identity.”
A 2013 study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 76 percent of practicing Catholics agree that same-sex relationships should be accepted by society. However, as Freml and Francesco point out, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church seems to be falling behind the progression of their disciples.
“You must consider that the church is not just bishops and hierarchy but also the people of God. But a lot of Catholics don’t realize that. So, by having these conversations, we will make that more specifically known and will catch the attention of Archbishop Chaput and other priests,” Freml said.
Francesco wrote a letter to the pope in which he describes feeling like a goat or a sheep without a herd. He has found it difficult to find a church that will accept him as his authentic self and doesn’t want to join groups such as the Courage Apostolate of the Catholic Church, which ministers to LGBT Catholics and preaches celibacy instead of acceptance of selves as sexual beings.
Francesco, like his LGBT pilgrim peers, would like to see the hierarchy of power within the church shift its message to that of inclusion instead of a system that more so resembles “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
“While at the parish level, everyday Catholics may be far more open and loving. It is like performing first aid, sealing the wound around the nail, making sure the nail wouldn’t move around to hurt further,” Francesco wrote in his letter to the pope. “But as long as the core of what harmed us remains in the church teaching, and the words of bishops are still around without being recanted, it is not the cure nor the beginning of (a) healing process.”
During the convention Equally Blessed will hold a press conference in the chapel of Arch Street United Methodist Church, a variety of workshops on LGBT spirituality and identity and will repeat some programming.
The Call to Action chapter in Philadelphia will provide refreshments for the pilgrim families and invite them in for conversation. Further events will be held at the William Way LGBT Community Center and will cover topics such as parents of LGBT people in the church, exploring gender identity and young adult social gatherings.
“I would like to express gratitude for Arch Street United Methodist Church for being such hospitable hosts for us. And will reiterate my hope that the hierarchy will see the real damage in their words and actions. The eviction silences our voices. We aren’t allowed to speak or talk. It does real damage,” Freml said. “With all of the church related firings, families are getting torn apart over these teachings. People are losing their livelihoods and resulting in the bullying of kids in Catholic schools. I hope that they will see us and talk to us. We’re not asking for them to change their minds but asking them to treat us with more dignity.”