Pope Francis Plants Seeds for Equality at World Youth Day

PF WYD 2016World Youth Day 2016 concluded yesterday, ending a crowded week of catechetical programs and prayer opportunities in Krakow.

Frank DeBernardo and I had hoped that Pope Francis would acknowledge gay Holocaust victims during his visit to Auschwitz, or use the week-long program to apologize to LGBT people hurt by the church, but neither occurred publicly. Still, I sense a different and powerful current happening at this World Youth Day through which Pope Francis is leading younger Catholics towards a reforming and renewing church.

Addressing youth at a prayer vigil on Saturday evening, Pope Francis urged attendees to “leave a mark on history” by being active in the world, uninhibited by fear and inspired by prayer. The pope said God seeks to work “one of the greatest miracles we can experience” through people’s own works.  He focused specifically on seeking reconciliation and unity:

“[God] wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. . .to continue building the world of today. And [God] wants to build that world with you. . .

“Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons – in a word to live – is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life. When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others. . .

“Today, we adults need you to teach us how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls!”

He had made a similar call to radical and hospitable discipleship during the Way of the Cross earlier in the week, too. And at the closing Mass on Sunday, Francis preached about God’s unconditional love and said “that not to accept ourselves. . .means not to recognize our deepest identity” as children of God. His homily on the Gospel story of Zacchaeus and Jesus also spoke extensively about the “paralysis of shame,” which should give way to the courage of living life.

Though Francis did not comment on LGBT issues, they were surely present throughout WYD in  personal conversations, catechetical sessions, and, most fundamentally, the lives of attendees. What the pope did emphasize many times are concepts like reconciliation, diversity, encounter, and dialogue. He affirmed young people struggling with questions about life or faith. These words may have challenged some attendees, but they likely confirmed what many young Catholics already know and are living out as they work for a more inclusive and just church for all.

So why and how are Pope Francis’ remarks relevant for LGBT advocates? His remarks to youth are subtly but importantly different from his predecessors’ remarks at youth events. Francis does not want youth to become the next generation of Catholics obsessed with opposing LGBT rights or other culture war issues. He focuses less on these issues and more on being a welcoming church that mediates God’s inclusive love.

But Francis is not just instructing young Catholics. He is reminding them of what they already know and what they are already doing.  In many situations, they have already been living Francis’ message in their work for LGBT justice.  Young Catholics are, in many regions, the most affirming group in the church. They are demanding that the church’s ministers and leaders be more pro-active when it comes to equality. Young Catholics have led the church by promoting reconciliation in their own families, schools, and communities. They embrace diversity, and they are courageously living out diverse sexual and gender identities in greater numbers than ever before. They are encountering the world with a real openness about LGBT issues, even in conservative regions.

Young Catholics can readily see that the church cannot preach hospitality if it turns away people because of their gender identities. They understand that embracing diversity must include embracing diverse sexual identities and expressions. They understand that not only can the church help reconciliation in the world, but that the church has deep wounds around gender and sexuality which must be attended to as well.

Francis seems unable or unwilling to apply his otherwise wonderful words explicitly to LGBT injustices within the church. The key now is for Pope Francis and church leaders to reverse the process of instruction. Following Jesus’ words, the pope and his staff should instead learn from the children. Such instruction would help church leaders see the new horizons towards which God calls the church. World Youth Day reminded me that young Catholics are cultivating and harvesting the seeds of equality planted by Pope Francis and an older generation of social justice Catholics.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

3 replies
  1. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    Sound commentary, Bob. It’s not always necessary to spell out the details of lgbt inclusion, to open up a path towards it. Spelling out some basic principles of the Gospel imply an imperative in that direction, making more explicit calls easier, later. Just as “The Joy of Love” was important for LGBT Catholics by emphasising the importance of conscience, the interior forum, and listening and accompaniment without actually naming them specifically in the LGBT context, the emphasis this past week on ” concepts like reconciliation, diversity, encounter, and dialogue” have obvious relevance to LGBT people.
    It’s also important to remember always that our concerns are not the only ones that matter. There are other people too, for whom these often neglected principles are important. Perhaps there is a sense in which by not spelling out principles uniquely for us, but couching them in terms with much wider relevance, he is de facto practising a form of greater lgbt inclusion.

  2. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    America has a particularly puritanical and rules-oriented relationship with morality, and this infuses every aspect of our society. In Europe, it is common for wives and mistresses of a man to attend his funeral together. This is absolutely not the norm in America. And the man who for years had a wife and children on one hand, and a mistress on the other, would not think of staying away from the church his wife and children attended. I give this example because I think there is a way to live where one knows and reveres the ideals, yet lives a human, messy life in a human, messy family. We might not be happy about everything our family members choose to do, but we are a family. THAT is the guiding principle, overriding all rules and regulations. Building love, commitment and lasting connection is what will bring people a sense of security and happiness. This model will never fit the rule book to a tee. Being rules oriented as a lifestyle goes hand in hand with judgment–if I have to follow all these rules, then by golly, you do, too, or else! This is not what we are called to do. We are not to follow rules because they are on “the master list of rules,” but on the basis of the prayerful examined conscience. And the prayerful examined conscience is what should lead all of us, all the time. Rules oriented priests fear that without the “iron fist” of authority, they will become irrelevant. This is far from the truth. Because when people live more examined lives, many more questions arise. This is what reconciliation is for. My confessor (sadly, he died several years ago) truly accompanied me for years. I attended his mass daily when I was on campus as an undergraduate, and we spoke about one issue or another regularly. I received the sacrament of reconciliation from him many times. He married my husband and myself, and baptized my children. So all the issues, the Catholic tenets of faith, infused my entire life. he played a huge role. He never told me I was dead wrong. He asked me to consider things, prayerfully. He was “old fashioned,” and did not really understand LGBT issues. But he was loving. He was prayerful. He would have never dismissed a person out of hand, or on the basis of some rule. Isn’t this the church Pope Francis (and Jesus) is calling us to?
    For LGBT people, the rules on the books that are in direct opposition to dignity need to go. There should be no firing of long-time employees, no jailing, and certainly no death penalty for LGBT people. If the Pope (along with the voices of all of us) can do this, then the forum will be set for love to thrive. I pray for this each day.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Pope Francis did not address LGBT issues in any of his public addresses at World Youth Day, though he did refer negatively to gender issues […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *