Speculation about the so-called “Pope Francis Effect” is rampant, as Catholics and observers parse out just what impact this more welcoming, more merciful pope is having at local levels. It appears that in the US, Catholics are not returning to Mass even as they celebrate Pope Francis’ new tone. However, one editor at Believe Out Loud started attending Mass just before the pope was elected and reflects on the past year as his ‘rediscovery’ of the Church.
James Rowe left the Catholic community for nearly 30 years before returning in February 2013, just as the papal transition was to begin. He connected with St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, which is run by the Franciscans and was the former parish of Father Mychal Judge, a gay priest who died ministering to firefighters in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Writing of Fr. Paul, who Rowe celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation with, he says:
“Fr. Paul didn’t give me that chance to fight for my place in the church.
“Instead he welcomed me with an open ear, an open heart, open arms and an open seat in the pew. I will be forever grateful for his gracious and loving spirit…
“The friars at St. Francis have been so very welcoming, making my return to church a joy. I can’t help but almost tear up when I go to communion.”
Aside from that initial welcome, Rowe details the healing and happiness he has found by worshiping in a Catholic community affirming of LGBT people. He notes one experience as an example, which was Mass on the evening preceding New York’s Pride March:
“This feeling of being loved, as Jesus loves us, is something everyone deserves to experience when they walk into a church…
“The pews and the aisles were packed with LGBTQ people everywhere—worshipping together and celebrating our love for God. There was so much happiness in the church that evening you would have thought it was Christmas morning.
“I managed to hold back the tears when Fr. Paul gave me communion and said my name, but sharing mass with so many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in an actual Catholic Church was too much to hold back. From the opening song to the final procession, years of pain and hurt that I felt from the church I loved began to finally wash away as tears continued to fall down my face. It was at that moment that I finally began to feel whole again.”
Too often news breaks of LGBT Catholics being denied Communion or not feeling welcomed with their family during Mass. Rowe’s reflection is a beautiful reminder of the graces which can emerge for LGBT people, and everyone, when faith communities become inclusive and affirming places.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry