What I Learned at the World Meeting of Families

When I set out for Ireland nine days ago, I thought I was going there to report on a church conference.  Instead, the experience has felt more like I was covering a revolution.

I know that is strong language, but that is how it felt.   In over a quarter of a century of attending demonstrations which called for inclusion of and equality for LGBT people in the church, I have never experienced anything like the strong, confident, and resolved people that I encountered here in Dublin.

Part of the reason this week felt different was because it didn’t feel like it was only a distinct group of protesters sending out a message: it felt like it was a whole nation.  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was accurate when in his address to the pope he informed the pontiff that Ireland had changed greatly since Pope John Paul had visited in 1979.

Ireland’s resolve to support LGBT people is very much connected with their righteous anger at the miserable way church officials here had treated children and protected abusers for decades and decades.  What seems to connect LGBT issues and clergy abuse issues in the Irish people’s minds is that in both arenas, church officials refused to listen to stories of those who say that church policies have harmed them.

Church leaders should take note:  ignoring people, pretending they don’t exist, and not treating their stories as valid harms people severely.

Since the early spring, the organizers of the World Meeting of Families appeared to try to shut out any public participation of LGBT families and to severely limit the discussion of LGBT issues at the event. After having spent a week in Dublin covering the World Meeting of Families as a journalist and an advocate, I have this to report about the organizers’ efforts:  they failed.

Far from stifling the discussion of LGBT issues, attempts to censor and exclude LGBT voices simply amplified them, if not at the WMF proper, then in the media discussion which surrounded the event.  The organizers succeeded at doing the exact opposite of what they hoped to do.

The discussion of LGBT issues in news reports about the WMF helped to raise awareness that the Irish people, whose souls and culture are very Catholic, have rejected the church hierarchy’s negative approach to LGBT topics.  And like pro-LGBT Catholics around the world, their Catholic heritage and traditions are what inspire them to welcome and affirm LGBT people and to work for their equal treatment in church and society.

Part of the revolution that occurred here last week is that doors were opened.  Fr. James Martin’s talk on LGBT Catholic ministry was a powerful witness and a major milestone in the movement of parishioners and pastoral ministers who have worked so hard for so long to create welcoming spaces.  His talk was a good prelude for future presenters to tell their faith and family stories themselves as LGBT Catholics.

LGBT people and supporters found creative ways to get their message across to WMF participants through song and art and witness. They participated officially at the closing liturgy of the Pastoral Congress and the papal liturgy closing the WMF.  They expressed their support of LGBT people in the press and with one another at the WMF. Archbishops and Cardinals were challenged to demonstrate support for LGBT people.  Church leaders were encouraged to reconcile with the LGBT community.  Catholic lay leaders spoke out strongly for equality.

The momentum for LGBT equality which built up this week will be hard to slow down.  We Are Church Ireland, a pro-LGBT Catholic reform group, deserves much of the credit for planning and assisting at so many of the week’s events designed to demonstrate support for not only LGBT equality, but for women’s ordination, and for justice for abuse victims.  Their leadership will keep things going here on the Emerald Isle, and the member groups of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics will help to spread that momentum around the world.

On my first full day at the World Meeting of Families, I snapped a photo of a volunteer with Trocaire, the overseas development charity of the Catholic Church in Ireland (similar to Catholic Relief Services in the U.S., CAFOD in the U.K., and Caritas in many other nations).  He was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Trocaire’s motto:  “Until Love Conquers Fear.”  Trocaire volunteers wearing that same T-shirt were visible all over the WMF venue.

That motto is apt for the revolution that I experienced here in Dublin.  It was a revolution not of weapons and power, but a revolution designed to conquer fear with love.

What did I learn at the World Meeting of Families?  I learned that through creative ways, strong faith, communal cooperation, and confident voices, love will conquer fear as we build a church of equality for LGBT people.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 28, 2018

4 replies
  1. Susanne Cassidy
    Susanne Cassidy says:

    Excellent reporting Frank, thank you for all your hard work. I am grateful and proud of my Irish heritage today.

  2. Cathy Pearce
    Cathy Pearce says:

    Love wins! We have to be confident that the message of the resurrection surrounds everything. Love will always RISE up and triumphs. Thank you for covering the WMF! Your faith must have been strengthened.🌈

  3. Kieran Fitzsimons ofm
    Kieran Fitzsimons ofm says:

    Hi Frank, Thank you for your reporting. Great to meet you in Dublin. You are an inspiration. Pace e bene! Kieran


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