Pope Francis makes headline after headline for personally reaching out through letters and phone calls to people who have written to him, and speaking pastorally with them. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica now reports that the pope sent a handwritten reply to a group of gay and lesbian Catholics in Italy, and the original letter may have prompted the pope’s recent warm remarks on LGBT people.
Based on a Google translation (and Bondings 2.0 will update with a more reliable translation when that becomes availabe), La Repubblica writes:
“Pen and paper. Among the many revolutions made by Pope Bergoglio, in addition to phone calls home to ordinary people…there is also the ‘post effect,’ the mountain of letters delivered every day at his residence in Santa Marta, and sent directly to him…
“Some people think it may have been one of these ‘messages in a bottle’ that inspired the breakthrough of Bergoglio about gays. A letter sent in June to the Pope by various Italian gay Catholics…where gays and lesbians asked Francis to be recognized as people and not as a ‘category’ and called for openness and dialogue on the part of the Church, recalling that the closure ‘always feeds homophobia.’ “
Further information comes from America Magazine, which only weeks ago carried a groundbreaking interview with Pope Francis where his remarks on homosexuality were positive and welcoming, which reports:
“A leader of the impromptu committee said as gay Catholics they had in the past written to other members of the church leadership in Italy and had always before been rewarded with silence…
“The Kairos group said they also received a letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, which informed them that Pope Francis ‘really enjoyed’ their letter to him and the way it was written, calling it an act of ‘spontaneous confidence.’
“One Kairos leader said Pope Francis had also assured the group of his blessing, something they could not before have imagined happening. The members of Kairos have decided to keep the rest of the message of both letters private.”
When New Ways Ministry led a pilgrimage to Italy in 2011, the Kairos group met with our American travelers to share stories and perspectives. Francis DeBernardo, our executive director, is contacting them currently to learn more about this papal letter. If we receive more information from them about the correspondence, we will update you.
While the contents of the pope’s letter remain private, truly as if between a pastor and the people he serves, there are broader lessons for the LGBT and ally Catholic community in this experience.
First, the wisdom that relational encounters with people are the most effective form of advocacy is relevant even for the pope. If La Repubblica‘s conjecture is correct that the personal letter from Kairos of Florence led to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” and other comments that have greatly shifted the Church’s tone on LGBT issues, then everyone should be writing letters to Rome. New Ways Ministry wrote a letter to Pope Francis, telling him about the goodness and holiness of Catholic LGBT people and pastoral outreach to them here in the U.S. Would you consider writing your own thoughts to him?
Second, if reaching out to the pope is effective, perhaps it is time for Catholics to reach out to their local Church leaders, namely priests and bishops. Sharing personal stories to replace philosophical constructs with human faces and relationships might lead to further conversions.
The pen and paper revolution underway with Pope Francis offers each person an opportunity to write their own message in the model of the Kairos of Florence authors. If you do write to Pope Francis or a local church leader, please consider sharing your message in the ‘Comments’ section for this post.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry