LGBT+ Catholics Westminster meet the Pope
On Ash Wednesday, 6 March 2019, 16 pilgrims, who were taking part in the 3rd LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pilgrimage to Rome, had privileged seats at the morning Papal Audience in St Peter's Square. At the end of the General Audience the group, which included parents and family members alongside LGBT Catholics with Pilgrimage Chaplain, Fr David Stewart SJ, was invited to meet Pope Francis.
The Pilgrimage Leader, Martin Pendergast, a member of the LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council, introduced the group to the smiling Pope Francis, explaining that they formed part of the LGBT+ pastoral ministry outreach of Westminster Diocese. “We had no idea that we would have been presented to the Holy Father like that,” he said. “It was a wonderful surprise!”
Fr Stewart said, “it’s always a great privilege to accompany a group of pilgrims to the “Eternal City”, particularly just as the joyous season of Lent began on Ash Wednesday. Encouraged by the Holy Father’s catechesis, then delighted by his personal greeting, our observation of Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving got off to a great start ”.
Each pilgrim received a gift of a rosary from Pope Francis who shook hands with the group's members. “Following his famous ‘Who am I to judge’ statement a couple of years ago, this is one more evidence that Pope Francis wants to meet LGBT+ families and friends” further commented Martin.
Later, on Ash Wednesday afternoon, the group was able to take part in the Holy Father’s Mass & Imposition of Ashes in the Church of Santa Sabina. In the evening, the group was warmly welcomed at an Ecumenical Liturgy of the Word & Blessing of Ashes with English-speaking Anglicans, Catholics and Methodists, in the Church of St Ignatius.
The programme included a conversation with Rome-based journalists, Christopher Lamb (The Tablet) and Robert Mickens (La Croix International) giving their perspectives on Pope Francis' Church reform strategy, not least following the recent Vatican Sexual Abuse Summit. They were also addressed by the American moral theologian, Professor James Keenan SJ, on the Pope's response to the 2014/2015 Synods on Marriage & Family. He focused on Pope Francis' key-principles of "accompaniment" and "moral discernment" as vital considerations in addressing LGBT concerns.
During the five day pilgrimage, which ended on Sunday 10th March, the group celebrated mass in the room where St Ignatius of Loyola died. “It was a simple mass, but very moving, given the Jesuit connection of our group,” said Martin Pendergast.
They also attended mass in the Titular Church of Cardinal Vincent Nichols - The Most Holy Redeemer & St. Alphonsus. In his message to the members of the pilgrimage, Cardinal Nichols wrote: “to be in Rome, as Lent begins, is a wonderful opportunity, not only to enjoy the beautiful environment with its historical connotations but, most especially, to deepen your faith. May St Peter and St Paul, and indeed all the Apostles, continue to guide you on your way, and may you never fail to be inspired by their witness, as faithful disciples of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
A morning prayer remembering victims of homophobia and transphobia was celebrated in the St. Bartholomew-on-the-Tiber Church, which commemorates martyrs of our own times and is run by the San Egidio Community.
The LGBT+ Catholics Westminster group regularly attend mass and meet at Farm Street Church.