The archbishop of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is the latest example of the “Francis Effect.” He recently encouraged parents to love their lesbian and gay children, and he opened a new shelter last week that will be inclusive.
Archbishop Joseph Harris helped open the Credo Center, a new shelter for at-risk children administered by the Holy Faith Sisters. The Center will welcome lesbian and gay youth, echoed in an opening statement:
” ‘Our doors are open to any boy or girl we feel are equipped to help, irrespective of race, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability or socio-economic status.’ “
The Holy Faith Sisters operate three other shelters in the country, all of which welcome youth regardless of their sexual orientation. Family rejection is a key reason why youth find themselves at the shelters. When asked about parents who cast out LGBT children, the archbishop’s words were recorded by Trinidad and Tobago Newsday:
” ‘I think that is the worst thing that you can do…I think people are people. All people have to be respected. All people, whatever orientation, are made in the image and likeness of Almighty God. We have to find God in them…
” ‘May all who enter it be treated with respect and kindness…May the spirit of love and affection touch all who use the rooms of this house. Loving God, may you lovingly care for all who will live, work and recreate here. Amen.’ “
At the center’s opening, Credo director Sr. Roberta O’Flaherty also addressed the problem of abandoned youth saying:
” ‘Our centres offer a second chance to socially displaced young people whose experience has been victimisation and marginalisation…Our worst crime is abandoning our children. For many of our children, the answer to today’s problems is not just tomorrow, it is tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But tomorrow is much too late for children who are suffering.’ “
Civil leaders in attendance, including the Minister of Gender and Child Development Raziah Ahmed, also spoke against discrimination based on a child’s sexual orientation and chastised parents who would reject their children.
The religious statements against discrimination are even weightier given the status of LGBT rights in Trinidad and Tobago. Though unenforced, the country still criminalizes homosexuality and bars gay visitors, even though some progress has been made in recent years.
It is good that high-ranking Catholic leaders are ministering pastorally and speaking out against prejudice against LGBT people. Too often, Catholic bishops have forgone their responsibility to speak out or care for all people because they were so adamantly opposed to LGBT civil rights. Archbishop Harris’ pastoral words and public blessing of the Holy Faith Sisters’ inclusive ministry are well in keeping with Pope Francis’ welcoming style, and hopefully a sign of more to come!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry