A Filipinx Catholic gay man has memoralized his powerful journey of self-discovery and how he found his way back to God and to the church. Now he is drawing on his experiences to help other LGBTQ Catholics in the Philippines and beyond.
In a Vice personal essay, Raymond Alikpala articulates a robust spiritual discernment of harmonizing the fundamental elements of his identity: a proud gay man, a devout practicing Catholic, and a Filipinx person who treasures his cultural heritage.
Alikpala discusses his initial understanding of LGBTQ identity, heavily influenced by his ethnicity as well as his Catholic faith:
“Like many Filipinos, I was raised in a devoutly Catholic home and went to an all-boys school run by priests most of my life. My family, teachers, and friends never talked about homosexuality, all I knew was that I should avoid it. In reality, I began to fear that I might be gay when I was six years old. I did not understand it yet then, but I knew I was different and that scared me. What if someone found out?”
Afraid of being ostracized, Alikpala wished that his sexual identity was only temporary and that he would fit into the social conventions of heterosexuality upon meeting a woman.
After completing his legal studies, Alikpala entered the Jesuit novitiate, the first step required towards becoming a member of that religious community. However, after one year, he was removed because he had sex with another man.
Alikpala reflects that in what he considers an ironic way, religious celibacy became a powerful vehicle for reframing his sexuality as a gift from God.
But Alikpala’s spiritual journey of reconciling his sexual identity, his Catholic faith, and his cultural roots was not a sequential and seamless process. He reveals the struggle of sharing his authentic self with his family while simultaneously questioning if there was a space for him in his church:
“After leaving the novitiate and coming out to my family and friends, I stopped going to church regularly for eight years because I no longer felt welcome there. But I never stopped examining my beliefs.”
He then traveled to Cambodia where he advocated for the legal rights and protections of refugees. For Alikpala, the physical distance from his Catholic origins, as well as his cultural background served as a pathway to redefine his relationship with the church, rediscovering it in a profound way:
“Living in a non-Christian country freed from the pressure of tradition and judgment, I found that it was the Catholic Church that gave me a sense of home. It became a place of comfort instead of fear, which it once was.”
With a new sense of gratitude for the church, Alikpala touches upon the important role supportive clergy can play in healing spiritual wounds and providing a more expansive theological understanding of God’s unconditional love for all persons, including LGBTQ Catholics:
“While living there, my nun friend helped me realise that God has been misrepresented as a taskmaster, someone with a list of Ten Commandments that one has to follow — you have to go to church, you have to dress this way, you have to behave like this, you have to avoid offending people. But the bottom line is that God is love. And a loving God would not create something evil.”
He also underscores how Pope Francis’ leadership, as well as the affirming ministry of local priests throughout the world are cultivating inclusive spaces for LGBTQ Catholics:
“I appreciate how Pope Francis, in his own ways, is welcoming LGBTQ people to the Church again. I can also see that in priests like Fr. James Martin, S.J., a consultant at the Vatican, who is known for actively building bridges for the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ community. I also personally know of many Filipino priests who are doing the same.”
Alikpala’s insights on Filipinx culture and society illustrate why religious leaders should actively work to heal the spiritual suffering the church has inflicted on its local Filipinx Catholic LGBTQ population.
For Alikpala, direct ministry and outreach by church officials is key:
“ Among the gay community in the Philippines, most do not care about being part of the Church anymore. They do not need the Church to define them because it’s just easier to talk about LGBTQ rights without putting God into the picture.”
Indeed, as Alikpala reflects on his own outreach and ministry towards LGBTQ Catholics, he bears witness to the reality that there is a sacred and inclusive place for LGBTQ persons in the liturgical life of the church, including those who were close to giving up on life itself:
“Knowing that the Church still has value for LGBTQ people, I have tried to create bridges in my own ways. In 2010, I wrote a memoir called God Loves Bakla (later released internationally as Of God and Men: A Life in the Closet) as a document to help other Filipino gay Catholics who might be going through the same thing. I have received many positive responses and in at least two cases, I was told that it had actually prevented suicide.”
Alikpala’s spiritual reconciliation illustrates a powerful blueprint that explores God’s unconditional loving embrace amidst pervasive attitudes of homophobia, transphobia, and intolerance.
His courage to sit with deep spiritual wounds and discern that there is a profoundly different understanding of God and the church show that the pathway to harmonizing our sexuality, our Catholic faith, and our cultural traditions is not only possible, but also supported by numerous religious leaders at all levels of the church.
Alikpala concludes his reflections with a heartwarming message of God’s love for who all struggle to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable identities:
“I wish I could say this to more people and give them a hug because I can still feel the pain, and my heart bleeds for the young people who are struggling like I did. I wish they could hear that God loves them, instead of all the hateful things people say. God’s love is like a radio on maximum volume. No matter what we do, God can’t love us any more or any less. How can you exceed infinity?”
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, August 11, 2020