A transgender Catholic has said it was a “historic moment” when she was invited to read prayer intentions during a Mass celebrated by an Argentine diocese’s newly-appointed bishop.
Francia López was invited by local officials to minister publicly at a Mass celebrated by Bishop Gabriel Barba of San Luis at a major diocesan celebration. Crux reported:
“The invitation was issued to Francia López by civil officials to recognize the work she does among the city’s poorer, daily feeding 400 people from a soup kitchen she runs. It came without the advance knowledge of the new bishop, Gabriel Barba, who took over the diocese July 11, and who chose a small village outside of the diocesan metropolitan area to celebrate his first Mass. Due to COVID-19 restrictions as well as the small size of the town, there were only a few souls in attendance in that first liturgy: on a good day, no more than 100 people live in San José del Morro.
“At the end of Tuesday’s Mass, López told the media she saw the invitation as a ‘historic moment’ and regarded it as ‘very hopeful, because it will allow us to build a Church as human beings, where the life options of diverse families have always encountered many obstacles to living their spiritual life.’
“‘The bishop’s message was so pastoral, with his gaze fixed on the poor,’ López emphasized, adding that this constitutes ‘true hope.'”
Two LGBTQ advocates, Carmelite Sr. Monica Astorga and Jesuit Fr. James Martin, concurred that López reading the prayers of the faithful was indeed a hopeful sign. Astorga, who has repeatedly been supported in her work with transgender women by Pope Francis, told Crux that the invitation was made prior to Bishop Barba’s arrival, but that he did not object. The report continued continued:
“When Barba was the bishop of his previous diocese, Astorga said, she put him in touch with a local family that has a transgender girl, and the bishop ‘accompanied them a lot.’ . . .
“Once Barba learned of the invitation, Astorga said, he didn’t object, and he might have issued one himself eventually. He was concerned that including a transgender woman would be seen as a too big a step, too soon, she said, but Astorga said she reassured him.
“‘I told him that perhaps all this internal church fighting, all these criticisms, are something superficial,’ she said, adding that the question is ‘how it’s impacted the trans community.'”
Astorga added, “Now the trans community of San Luis, at least, know that they can go into the cathedral church and pray, because someone who’s like them was allowed to read during such an important Mass.”
Martin told Crux:
“‘It’s essential to include all the faithful in the Prayers of the Faithful, and that includes LGBTQ people. . .That means we pray for their needs and we also invite them to pray. Bishop Barba was acting as a true pastor in welcoming a transgender woman to pray in the cathedral.'”
Beyond the significance of a transgender Catholic being able to minister so publicly at Mass, what should not be lost is why Francia López was invited to read the prayers: it was her commitment to the poor and marginalized. Too often, conversations about LGBTQ people in the church focus on the marginalization that the community itself experiences. But López’s story is a reminder of a too-forgotten aspect of the conversation, namely how many LGBTQ Catholics live their faith through the works of mercy for and of justice with others excluded and oppressed.
For a church where the institution lives to serve those who serve others, let us pray. And may God hear our prayer.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 16, 2020