Five Years–And Counting!!!

Time really does fly when you’re having fun!  I can’t believe that it was five years ago today that I sat down at my computer at New Ways Ministry and typed into Google the words “how to start a blog.”  I spent the day learning about platforms and scheduling, and by the time 5:00 p.m.rolled around, I had my very first post for a blog I dubbed Bondings 2.0.  The Bondings part of the name was taken from New Ways Ministry’s paper newsletter, published continuously since 1978.  The 2.0 part was a nod to the fact that this was a social media version of Catholic LGBT news.

I started the blog that day with the hope that I would post something three times a week.  However, I so much enjoyed the work of blogging that I found myself posting every single day.  And for the past five years, we have put up at least one post (sometimes two or three) every single day.  This isn’t just bragging about our epistolary stamina.  The fact that there is something to post every single day for five years attests to the fact that Catholic LGBT news and opinion has blossomed and is one of the main stories of our contemporary world.

One of the main joys of this work is that I get to interact with wonderful people:  our readers!  Your comments on individual posts have helped to open my eyes to perspectives and information that are truly enlightening.  I’m grateful, too, to the many readers who send me “tips” in the form of news links to articles I might have missed.

I also have been blessed with great co-workers over the years who have kept this blog vibrant.  Of course, at the top of this list is Bob Shine, a tireless writer and investigator who does the lion’s share of the work in producing posts week in and week out.  And of course, my colleagues at New Ways Ministry who have written several posts over the years–Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Matt Myers, Cynde Nordone, Glen Bradley–have also added to this great conversation.

Last, but not least, are our guest contributors, too many to mention by name, but whose writings have brought new dimensions to this ongoing conversation.  Our latest guest contributor debuted yesterday, in an Advent Scriptural reflection series written by young LGBTQ theologians.

Only twice a year do we come to our readers and ask for financial support for this project.  Tomorrow is “Giving Tuesday,”  a day set aside to make holiday donations to non-profit organizations and charities.  We would be deeply honored if you could assist this blog project by making New Ways Ministry one of your charitable donations this year.   You can donate by clicking here, filling out the form, and writing “blog” in the comments box at the end of the form.  You don’t have to wait until Tuesday to make your donation.  Do it today so that you don’t forget!   Of course, your donation is tax-deductible.

If you prefer not to donate on-line, you can call our office 301-277-5674, during business hours, Eastern U.S. time, and we can take your credit card information over the phone.  Or you can send a check made to “New Ways Ministry” to 4012 – 29th Street, Mount Rainier, Maryland 20712.  However you decide to donate, your gift is tax-deductible.

At this anniversary time, we also like to let folks know about our criteria for approving “Comments” to individual blog posts.  Some of the criteria are very common to many blogs and some are particular to ours. Here are the guidelines that we use:

Common to many blogs;
1. No obscenities or anything offensive
2. No personal attacks or name-calling
3. Be relevant to the material posted
4. Argue politely
5. Avoid sarcasm
6. Nothing that is patently self-promotional
Particular guidelines for our blog:
1.  Nothing that would be pastorally harmful to our readers (e.g.,  “you are going to hell,”  “God hates gays,”  etc.)
2.  No condemning people–even people who are anti-LGBT
3.  No blanket calls to leave the Catholic Church, or invitations to join other churches (e.g, “All LGBT people should leave Catholicism,”  “I don’t know why you all don’t become Protestant”).

Blogging has been a wonderful adventure these past five years!  Each day, we learn something new.  We look forward to many more adventurous years with you in the future!  Thanks so much for being a part of this online community!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 28, 2016

In Major Address, Fr. James Martin, SJ, Invites LGBT People and the Institutional Church to Mutual Respect

Fr. James Martin, SJ, called for greater mutual respect between the institutional church and LGBT communities during a major address he presented yesterday.

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Fr. James Martin, SJ recieving the Bridge Building Award from New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo and Co-Founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL

Titled “A Two-Way Bridge,” the address was framed around the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s exhortation that lesbian and gay people be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Fr. Martin offered his remarks after receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award, which recognized his ministry of communication and the ways it has expanded dialogue on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church

In the address, Fr. Martin asked  what living this exhortation out might mean for church leaders and ministers, but also for LGBT people as they relate to the institutional church. Today’s post features highlights from the address, and you can find the full text by clicking here.  (The text of the talk can also be found on America magazine’s website.)

Respect 

For the institutional church to respect LGBT communities would mean, at least, the acknowledgment that such persons exist, Fr. Martin said.  In addition, the needs to offer pastoral responses through welcoming Masses, outreach groups, and efforts to make LGBT people known they are part of the church. Fr. Martin continued:

“Second, respect means calling a group what it asks to be called. . .Because it is respectful to call people by the name they choose. Everyone has the right to tell you their name. . .

“Names are important. . .people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”

Commenting on the firings of LGBT church workers, of which more than 60 have become public since 2008, Fr. Martin said:

“The problem is that this authority is applied in a highly selective way. Almost all the firings in recent years have focused on L.G.B.T. matters. Specifically, these firings have most often related to those employees who have entered into same-sex marriages, which is against church teaching, and where one or another partner has a public role in the church. . .

“Moreover, requiring church employees to adhere to church teachings means, at a more fundamental level, adhering to the Gospel. To be consistent, we should fire people for not helping the poor, for not being forgiving and for not being loving. That may sound odd, but why should it? Jesus’s teachings are the most essential ‘church teachings.’ “

When it comes to LGBT people showing respect to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said Catholics must practice ecclesial respect for church leaders and simple human respect for these leaders who are our siblings. He stated:

“This may be hard to hear for people who feel beaten down by the church. But being respectful of people with whom you disagree is not only the Christian way. Even from a human point of view, it’s good strategy.  If you sincerely want to influence the church’s perspective on L.G.B.T. matters, it helps to earn the trust of the hierarchy. And one way to do that is by respecting them. So both the Christian approach and simple wisdom would say: Respect them.”

Compassion

Fr. Martin also explored what it would mean for the institutional church to be compassionate towards LGBT people. He highlighted twice that compassion means “to experience with, or suffer with.” Being compassionate includes listening, expressing solidarity including through episcopal statements, and celebrating joyfully. He noted:

“The first and most essential requirement is listening. It is nearly impossible to experience a person’s life, or to be compassionate, if you do not listen to the person, or if you do not ask questions. Questions that Catholic leaders might ask their L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters are: What is your life like? What was it like growing up as a gay boy or lesbian girl or transgender person? How have you suffered? What are your joys? And: What is your experience of God? What is your experience of the church? What do you hope for, long for, pray for? For the church to exercise compassion, we need to listen.”

LGBT people showing compassion to the institutional church and its leaders would include seeing bishops “in their humanity, in their complexity and amid the great burdens of their ministries.” Fr. Martin wondered if LGBT communities could give the institutional church the “gift of time,” that is time to make sense of diverse experiences of gender and sexuality:

“Challenging as it may be to hear, and without setting aside the suffering that many L.G.B.T. people have experienced in the church, I wonder if the L.G.B.T. community could give the institutional church the gift of time. Time to get to know you. In a very real way, an open and public L.G.B.T. community is new, even in my lifetime. In a very real way the world is just getting to know you. So is the church. I know it’s a burden, but it’s perhaps not surprising. It takes time to get to know people. So perhaps the L.G.B.T. community can give the institutional church the gift of patience.”

Sensitivity

Finally, Fr. Martin called for LGBT people and the institutional church to show greater sensitivity towards each other. For the church, this last point means responding to Pope Francis’ call for encounter and accompaniment, and Martin said one reason church leaders struggled to show sensitivity is they knew very few LGBT people:

“That lack of familiarity and friendship means it is more difficult to be sensitive. How can you be sensitive to a person’s situation if you don’t know them? So one invitation is for the hierarchy to come to know them as friends. . .

“In this, as in all things, Jesus is our model. When Jesus encountered people on the margins, he saw not a category but a person. To be clear, I am not saying that the L.G.B.T. community should be, or should feel, marginalized. Rather, I am saying that within the church many of them do find themselves marginalized. They are seen as ‘other.’ But for Jesus there was no ‘other.’ “

If sensitivity is based on”encounter, accompaniment, and friendship,” then it must be enacted by seeking to not offend. Using language like “objectively disordered” is not sensitive, Fr. Martin said, and further:

“Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person—the part that gives and receives love—is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel. . .Part of sensitivity is understanding that.”

For LGBT people to show sensitivity to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said they should be aware of “who is speaking and how they are speaking.” This sensitivity means acknowledging the hierarchy of authoritative teaching, and what weight each teaching has, noting that not all statements, figures, and documents are not of equal weight. Authority is also possessed by holy people, and Fr. Martin continued:

“Moreover, there is an invitation to be sensitive to the fact that when someone in the Vatican speaks—whether the pope or a Vatican congregation—they are speaking to the whole world, not just the West, and certainly not just the United States. Something that seems tepid in the United States might be shocking in Latin America or Africa. . .

“Well, perhaps in the West those words seemed insufficient. But the pope is writing not simply for the West, much less simply for the United States. Imagine reading that in a country where violence against L.G.B.T. people is rampant and the church has remained silent. What is bland in the United States is incendiary in other parts of the world. What might be obvious to a bishop in one country is a clear, forceful, even threatening, challenge to another bishop. What seems arid to L.G.B.T. people in one country may be, in another country, water in a barren desert.”

Fr. Martin concluded his address by inviting the institutional church and the LGBT community to “step onto a bridge of mutual ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and said:

“Some of this may be hard to hear for the L.G.B.T. community. It is hard to step onto that bridge. And some of this may be challenging for bishops to hear. Because neither lane on that bridge is smooth. On this bridge, as in life, there are tolls. It costs when you live a life of respect, compassion and sensitivity. But to trust in that bridge is to trust that eventually people will be able to cross back and forth easily, and that the hierarchy and the L.G.B.T. community will be able to encounter one another, accompany one another and love one another. It is to trust that God desires unity.

“We are all on the bridge together. Because, of course, the bridge is the church. And, ultimately, on the other side of the bridge for each group is welcome, community and love.”

In a special appeal to LGBT Catholics, who struggle with the church and are hurt by its ministers, Martin stated:

“The Holy Spirit is supporting the church and is supporting you. . .For you are beloved children of God who, by virtue of your baptism, have as much right to be in the church as the pope, your local bishop or me. . .In short, you are not alone. Millions of your Catholic brothers and sisters accompany you, as do your bishops, as we journey imperfectly together on this bridge. More important, we are accompanied by God, the reconciler of all men and women of good will, as well as the architect, the builder and the foundation of that bridge.”

To read the full text of Fr. Martin’s address, “A Two-Way Bridge,” click here. Further information about the Bridge Building Award ceremony, including a video of the address and comments made by one of the attendees, Yayo Grassi, a gay man and former student of Pope Francis, will be posted later this week.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 31, 2016

Lessons from Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Woman of Mercy

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry, was featured by the Catholic reform organization FutureChurch as their Woman Witness of Mercy for October. The following reflection by Bondings 2.0’s Associate Editor Bob Shine was included in a resource packet on Jeannine. For more information, and to purchase the packet, click here.

home-page-slide-jeannine-gramickAfter fifty -plus years in religious life, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL has encountered numerous people and touched many lives in her ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the Catholic Church. I first met Jeannine a few months after college and in this reflection, I share a little of how she has impacted my own life and what I know younger Catholics can learn from this holy and humble person.

I began at New Ways Ministry during a service year with the Loretto Volunteers. The first evening at the Volunteers’ opening retreat, held at the Sisters of Loretto’s motherhouse in Kentucky, we watched a documentary about Jeannine’s life and ministry. I lay in bed that evening and, quite overwhelmed, questioned myself on how I had jumped into such deep waters. Sisters had shared their stories with us over meals and in side conversations. Theirs were stories of integrating schools and accompanying communities, of artistry and feminist witnesses, of poetry and anti-war protests. Theirs was a mission, to paraphrase their famed former superior Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, of going out to the ends of the branches of our world because that is where the fruit resides. And I had committed to wandering out an ecclesial branch with a sister who was taking on the Catholic Church.

Events that fall would not, at first, quiet the questions from that opening retreat. Within a few weeks, I had spent a Saturday witnessing at various sites in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th anniversary and helped organize Catholic events for the marriage equality campaign in Maryland. I had discovered that even the enthusiasm and energy I had at 22 could not keep pace with Jeannine and the other sisters.

With time, working alongside Jeannine and Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, I have learned much. Four years on, Jeannine and I now teach one another. It is not quite equal – I help her navigate Facebook and she helps me navigate the complexities of being a disciple of Christ – but it is a friendship I cherish. The following are four lessons Jeannine has taught me, lessons which can aid younger Catholics like myself as we find our way in the troubled church we love.

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Sister Jeannine Gramick

“What is the Catholic Church doing for gays and lesbians?” A young gay man named Dominic posed this question to Jeannine in 1971, and it would be this question that radically transformed her life. Jeannine began organizing home liturgies for gay people in the Philadelphia area, educating herself on homosexuality, offering some workshops, and, in just a few years, launched New Ways Ministry with Fr. Robert Nugent. Being open to Dominic’s question and tender to the pain of gay people excluded from the church led Jeannine down a path she never expected, but which came to define her life. I was not there, but I believe it was the Spirit speaking through Dominic when he asked that question. This story is a reminder that we, as Christians, must be ever present to the people around us, ever listening to voices at the margins, and ever willing to let the Other make claims on our life that may have profound consequences.

Don’t say the church when you mean the hierarchy. Jeannine lives committed to Vatican II’s teaching that the church is fundamentally the People of God, and that community is essential for Christian life. Before I knew Jeannine well, I thought she was a rogue figure who alone had challenged the Vatican, yet this narrative is not accurate. Her decades of ministry would not be possible without the people and communities that support her and work with her – the congregations to which she has belonged, other women religious, LGBT Catholics and their families, supporters of New Ways Ministry, theologians and scholars, and more. And Jeannine is not only supported by, but actively contributes to the communities she is in. For younger Catholics in the United States, we cannot forget how essential community will be for our journeys even if parish pews are thinning out and the hair of fellow believers’ greys. Enacting the church’s evangelical mission is not possible unless we live as the People of God: baptized as priests, called to holiness, and supporting one another whatever may come.

The envelopes need stuffing. On Tuesday evenings, you will find Jeannine with the New Ways Ministry volunteers who prepare the organization’s bulk mailings and then gather for pizza and camaraderie. Jeannine models what it means to be a leader who serves. Even though she is quite busy, she attends to people with kind notes and small loving acts. She willingly does the tedious but necessary tasks with everyone else. She works long hours to ensure every detail is correct, and exhibits a persistence in ministry possessed by few (and the teacher in her never wastes an opportunity to teach me a grammar lesson). Jeannine teaches younger Catholics that seeking ecclesial reform and renewal means hard work that is hardly glamorous. We must resolve each morning to seeking a just church, steadily running the race Christ has set before us that is not even a marathon but an ultramarathon.

“I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression.” These words, with which Jeannine responded to the Vatican’s attempt at silencing her, are a haunting reminder to me of what being Christian entails. Being part of the church means calling the church to live more fully the Gospel that we proclaim, but people will resist this threatening call. Jeannine endured two decades of degrading investigations and punitive sanctions by church leaders because she refused to believe LGBT people are anything less than wonderfully made by God. She challenges even today the church she loves and the communities to which she belongs, exercising the prophetic office which we all share through baptism as she invites all people to be reconciled. To be Christian is to prioritize Christ against all else, and there will be times when following the decisions we make in conscience leaves us isolated, rejected, and deeply pained. But we should never collaborate in our own oppression or the oppression of others, especially when it is the church for which we are responsible that is inflicting wounds.

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Jeannine Gramick, SL & Bob Shine

The widespread acceptance of LGBT people among Catholics in the United States and growing acceptance internationally can largely be attributed to Jeannine’s tireless labors. She is an incarnation of these words from Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, words which Jeannine introduced me to (they hang in a frame over her desk) and which are so powerful for Catholics who seek a reformed and renewed church:

“All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; but then their roots are the sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.”

Holy people are holy not because of their greatest flowering acts, but because of their quietest habits which create sturdy and deep roots. Jeannine Gramick has acted greatly in listening to Dominic’s voice and being faithful to her response even when the Vatican bore down. Yet, the person I know Jeannine to be is a person whose quietest habits in daily life are what have most catalyzed the reception of Vatican II and renewal of the Catholic Church on matters of gender and sexuality. Honored to know Jeannine as a colleague and as a friend, I conclude with this prayer:

Radiant colors stretched across the sky,
the rainbow is your sign of loving covenant,
after flood waters bathed the earth, O Divine Creator.

From You, creation is breathed into being,
from chaotic waters, infinite diversity rises,
every person reflecting You, wonderfully made,
every creature beloved by You, wonderfully made.

Arms stretched to the ends of the Cross’ beam,
Jesus is your sign of lasting covenant,
after we forget how to love, O Divine Redeemer.

Slowly, creation seeks Your embrace by
our daily labors and our bread broken,
yet imperfect lives keep restrained the love
You poured into our beings, love to pour out.

With lives stretched outward from within,
we are your sign of liberating covenant,
after we encounter the Other, O Divine Healer.

Pierced by the Other’s inquiry of “Will you love?”
our reconciling hopes foundations for new bridges,
creating a church where God’s queer people
from margins to center come, radiant people,
lives echoing Jesus’ prayer to be One.

We are the People of God, invoking your creative breath,
as a sacrament in the world, as an outstretched rainbow
proclaiming anew in our renewing witness,
Your loving, lasting, liberating covenant.
May this be so; may we be one. Amen.

–Bob Shine,  New Ways Ministry, October 29, 2016

Don’t Forget! Spirit Day is THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016!

By Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, October 18, 2016spiritdayatcatholicschool_facebook

What is Spirit Day?

It is an annual national event reminding schools to confront anti-LGBT bullying and bias. Click here for more info from GLAAD.

When is it? 

THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016.

What happens? What can I do?

Wear as many purple clothes as you can on Thursday, October 20th. The display of purple will show that you are against anti-LGBT discrimination and you support your LGBT students, faculty, and staff. Wearing purple will show you want to have a safe and inclusive school! 

What if I am a student and have a dress code or uniform?

If you can’t wear a purple shirt or skirt/pants/dress, your school might allow you to wear a purple sweater, a ribbon pinned to your shirt, or a bracelet that is made of anything purple (ribbon, yarn, etc.). If you are comfortable, you could ask your parents for advice. Or, you can usually find your school’s dress code online if you Google your school’s name and “dress code” or “uniform.” If your school allows a non-uniform sweater and/or jewelry, wear them in purple!

What about social media? What should I post?

Spread the word! Share this page with your friends and teachers.

Use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools, @NewWaysMinistry and @GLAAD on all your social media posts and photos to join our new hashtag campaign. It will help you find fellow LGBT and ally students, faculty, and staff at Catholic schools while helping them find you!

Share our social media banner (download here).

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Post our social media image (download here). 

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Follow @NewWaysMinistry on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Use GLAAD’s app (iPhone & Andriod) to make your profile pictures purple.

Important!

We know we’ve said this a lot, but don’t forget to use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools for all your Spirit Day photos! This hashtag is new and making it go viral can bring attention to the work needed at Catholic schools. You can join this new social media trend!

Want to find out more? Need help explaining Spirit Day to others or to your school? Wondering about the Catholic school context?

Download and print this resource from New Ways Ministry explaining Spirit Day from a Catholic perspective! (PDF download available here).

Click here for our original post calling Catholics to participate in Spirit Day 2016.

Fr. James Martin to Receive New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award

For an updated version of this page, please click here. 

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Fr. James Martin, SJ

New Ways Ministry is proud to announce the presentation of our Bridge Building Award to Father James Martin, SJ, in recognition of his ministry of communication which has helped to expand the dialogue on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church.

The award will be presented at a ceremony on Sunday, October 30, 2016, 2:00-5:00 p.m., at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, 1726 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, Maryland, 21208 (near Baltimore).  Immediately following the presentation Fr. Martin will offer remarks.  An hors d’oeuvre reception will conclude the event.


For information on attending the award ceremony for Fr. Martin, click here

For information on honoring Fr. Martin on this occasion, click here.


Fr. Martin serves as Editor At Large for America magazine, the national Jesuit opinion journal.  In addition, he is one of the most widely recognized Catholic personalities on social media, with a Facebook following of close to half a million people.  Fr. Martin has used his communication skills and channels to allow for an extensive discussion of LGBT issues among Catholics of varying ideologies.

To read all of Bondings 2.0 blog posts which refer to Fr. Martin, click here.

New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award honors those individuals who by their scholarship, leadership, or witness have promoted discussion, understanding, and reconciliation between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church. The award was first given in 1992 to Father Charles Curran, a renowned moral theologian. Other awardees were: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (1995);  Sister Margaret Farley, RSM (2002); Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata (2005); John J. McNeill (2009).

The October 30th award ceremony and reception are open to the public. A suggested donation is $35 per person (all are welcome regardless of ability to donate). If you would like to attend the event, please click here, and fill out the form by October 20th.

If you would like to honor Fr. Martin’s achievements in a special way, New Ways Ministry invites you to have your name or your organization’s name listed in the program booklet for the event.  You may choose to be listed in one of the following categories:

  • Patron ($1,000 donation)
  • Benefactor ($500 donation)
  • Supporter ($250 donation)
  • Contributor ($100 donation)
  • Friend ($50 donation)

To have your name or organization’s name listed, please click here and fill out the form by Ocvtober 7th.

If you have any problems with the online form, please contact New Ways Ministry at 301-277-5674 or info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

Father Martin is the author and editor of numerous books including Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus, and The Abbey: A Story of Discovery. His 2014 publication  Jesus: A Pilgrimage was a New York Times bestseller and won both a Christopher Award and a Catholic Press Association Award. Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life was named as one of “Best Books” of 2011 by Publishers Weekly.

His book on Jesuit spirituality The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, a New York Times bestseller, was awarded a 2010 Christopher Award, and was also a number one bestseller in Catholic books.  His memoir My Life with the Saints (Loyola, 2006), which received a 2007 Christopher Award, was named one of the “Best Books” of 2006 by Publishers Weekly, and also received a First Place award from the Catholic Press Association.  Together on Retreat: Meeting Jesus in Prayer is an e-book that uses the technology of the e-reader to lead readers on a guided retreat.

For further information call (301) 277-5674 or email info@NewWaysMinistry.org

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Pilgrimage to Ireland, Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells–Part 1

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Pilgrims gathered among the monastic ruins at Glendalough.

Today’s post is Part One of a two-part series on New Ways Ministry’s pilgrimage to Ireland.

New Ways Ministry’s recent pilgrimage to Ireland brought showers of blessings to the two dozen participants who made the trip.  One of the biggest blessings was the opportunity to learn firsthand about LGBT ministry, welcome, and advocacy in Ireland at this time.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, was the planner and spiritual leader of this journey, entitled “Ireland:  Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells.”  Ireland was selected not only for its strong Catholic identity, but because in 2015 it became the first nation in the world to enact marriage equality by popular vote.   As the pilgrims learned from their visits and meetings with church leaders and LGBT advocates, the Catholic movement for LGBT equality is strong in the Emerald Isle.

Throughout the trip, the pilgrims received warm Irish welcomes from several communities of religious men and women, while also visiting sites important to the LGBT community.

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Fr. Tony Flannery and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Esker Monastery, Athenry

The day we arrived, the Redemptorists welcomed us for Mass and a “cuppa” tea, scones, and soup at their Esker Monastery outside the town of Athenry.  Fr. Tony Flannery, a leader in Ireland’s church reform movement, was on hand with his brother Redemptorists to introduce us to the many ways his community is building a more inclusive church.  Fr. Brendan O’Rourke presided at Eucharistic liturgy for the group.

We encountered the Redemptorists three more times on our trip.  We celebrated Mass at their parish church in Cherry Orchard, a low-income neighborhood of Dublin.  Fr. Adrian Egan discussed contemporary social problems facing this low-income area before offering a prayer that we “keep in mind anyone who, for any reason, feels on the edges and excluded.”

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Pádraig speaking to pilgrims, Clonard Monaster, Belfast

Redemptorist Father John J. Ó Ríordáin  guided the pilgrims prayerfully through the historic site of Glendalough, the monastery founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.  As we walked from place to place around the grounds, Fr. Ó Ríordáin offered not only historical background, but also some Celtic prayers and poems appropriate to the various settings.  Our trip there ended with an outdoor Mass by the side of one of Glendalough’s stunning lakes.

In Belfast, we visited the beautiful Clonard Monastery with a sanctuary dominated by an image of Jesus with outstretched arms—a symbol that all are welcome to the parish, Fr. Noel Kehoe, the pastor, told us in greeting.

While at Clonard, which also is the city’s main center for reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant citizens, the pilgrims were educated about these peace efforts by Pádraig Ó Tuama, an openly gay Catholic man. He said the Redemptorist monastery is known well for being a safe space to many, including LGBT people, because here, “You know you didn’t have to lessen your dignity.” Ó Tuama is also the leader of the Corymeela Community, an Irish spirituality center, which includes LGBT people and sponsors a retreat for pastoral ministers involved in LGBT ministry.

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Mercy Associate Susanne Cassidy sharing with her fellow pilgrims at Mother McAuley’s first Convent of Mercy, Baggot Street, Dublin

In Dublin, we visited the home of one of that city’s most well-known Catholic daughters:  Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.  At the Mercy International Center on Baggot Street, we were warmly welcomed by Sister Mary Kay Dobrovlny, a U.S. sister who provided us with information and inspiration about Mercy’s origins.  At Mass in the Center’s chapel, one of our pilgrims, Susanne Cassidy, the Catholic mother of two gay sons and a Mercy Associate, shared the impact that Mother McAuley’s witness had on her own life and LGBT ministry. We adjourned, as always, for a comfortable cup of tea afterwards.

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St. Brigid of Kildare, Solas Bhríde, Kildare

In Kildare, the pilgrims visited Solas Bhríde (Light of Brigid), a spirituality center and hermitage opened just last year.  The three Brigidine Sisters–Sr. Mary Minehan, Sr. Phil O’Shea, and Sr. Rita Minehan–who oversee the ecologically-built center said the purpose of their ministry is to “unfold the legacy of St. Brigid and its relevance for our time.” St. Brigid, abbess of a double monastery (one part for men and one part for women) in Kildare, is a great inspiration to the Irish people for taking care of the environment.

At the spirituality center, we visited the garden to see a new statue of St. Brigid by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. The statue was commissioned by Fr. Dennis O’Neill, a Chicago priest who is pastor of St. Martha parish, Morton Grove, which is an LGBT-friendly parish.

At the Whitefriars Street Church, a Carmelite parish in Dublin, the pilgrims gathered to pray at the shrine of St. Valentine, an altar which holds a small casket containing the relics of this famous saint who is so connected with love and relationships.  Sister Jeannine offered a reflective reading of St. Paul’s famous discourse on love, found in 1 Corinthians 13, while we prayed for all our relationships–past, present, future.

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Pilgrims at a statue of Oscar Wilde, Merrion Square, Dublin

On the same day, we gathered for a photo, not prayer, at the statue of Dublin’s famous author, Oscar Wilde, the beautiful Merrion Square park. Wilde was jailed for being a gay man and for writing of “the love that dare not speak its name,” about which he said during his trial, “It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection.”

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will share details about two meetings we had with LGBT Irish folks and their families, and the wisdom gleaned from them.  We’ll also discuss our visit to the Archdiocese of Dublin’s monthly Mass for the LGBT community. Tune in!

To view more photos from the pilgrimage, visit New Ways Ministry’s page on Facebook by clicking here. If you would like information about future pilgrimages, please send an email to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Sr. Jeannine Gramick Celebrated Good News in 2015

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Sr. Jeannine Gramick, left, with Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, has worked more than four decades to bring LGBT equality to the Catholic Church. Few years have been as positive for this ministry as 2015 despite remaining challenges in the church.  The following is a re-cap of some of the highlights of her year’s activities, including many which this blog had not yet covered.

In February, Gramick accompanied 50 LGBT and Ally Catholic pilgrims to a papal audience in Rome where the New Ways Ministry group was given VIP seating. In September, she attended the White House’s welcoming reception for Pope Francis alongside other prominent LGBT advocates. In between, there were many positive Catholic LGBT developments around the world including Ireland’s marriage referendum, for which she campaigned when she visited the Emerald Isle.  (And she’ll be returning to Ireland in April 2016 with another group of LGBT and Ally pilgrims.  It’s not too late to sign up!  You can read more information and find a registration form by clicking here.)

In Good Conscience, the 2005 documentary about Gramick’s life, with particular emphasis on her relationship with the Vatican, celebrated its 10th anniversary. Producer Barbara Rick released an updated version and spoke with Global Sisters Reporter about the film and the sister behind it, saying of Gramick:

“This is a woman who is doing something revolutionary by refusing to be silenced by the patriarchal hierarchy of the Vatican. That just resonated very deeply with me: a woman standing up without fear (or in spite of fear) and saying, ‘I refuse to collaborate on my own oppression.’ That just hit such a deep chord in me. . .

“I think she was a part of this transformation that has happened in the treatment of gay and lesbian Catholics and gay and lesbian people throughout the world. She is part of the realization that all people are deserving of love, rights, respect and marriage.”

A recent Buzzfeed profile of Sister Jeannine details in greater depth her journey of being faithful to an inclusive Gospel.  It’s a good read for those who want to learn more of her life and how she became involved with LGBT ministry and advocacy.  In the interview, she expressed hope in Pope Francis’ leadership, saying:

“[Attending the papal audience] was a great feeling of vindication, almost a euphoria that this is how the church should be. . .Doctrine doesn’t inform ministry. I think the opposite: Ministry informs the doctrine. In fact, I’m more in line with Pope Francis: I don’t think we need to worry or think about or be concerned about doctrine.”

Not all welcomed Gramick in 2015, however.  When she visited the Czech Republic this past summer, Prague’s archbishop expelled the program at which she was scheduled to speak from a local parish. Cardinal Dominik Duka rejected events to be held at the church during Prague Pride festivities over the summer. Sister Jeannine spoke elsewhere, reported the Prague Post, but remained disappointed by the cardinal’s decision.

As 2016 approaches, Sr. Jeannine’s ministry will keep pressing for equal justice for LGBT people in the church and in society. Her message from her earliest years still rings true for Catholics today: “This is your church — don’t let other people screen you out.” To hear more of Sr. Jeannine Gramick’s story and learn about her message of love, you can watch a TED Talk she gave at Penn State University earlier this year, entitled “Walk in Your God Shoes“:

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry