This is an article I wrote that was published in August 2008. –Fr. Michel
At the end of June, a group of ten parishioners and myself went down to Columbus, Ohio to march in the Pride parade and to participate in the activities planned by our cathedral parish of St. Sebastian. The weather was warm, breezy and bright—a perfect day for a parade. We parked in the downtown parking garage and made our way uptown to the park where the parade was forming. I wore my clerical collar both to demonstrate my solidarity with the GLBT community assembled there and also to send a clear challenge to the dozens of Catholic priests in the area who ignore the cries of this community for justice in the Church.
We made our way through the crowds and people were looking askance at my clerical attire; I could tell that some of them weren’t sure I was really a priest. Some seemed to think that I was in “clerical drag”, attempting to fit into the general party atmosphere. When we met up with the other priests from St. Sebastian, all doubt was dispelled, and we were accorded our place in the parade line-up. Thanks to the generosity of the cathedral parish, we were presented with a colorful banner that announced who we were and where we were from. The parade was scheduled to begin at 1:00 pm, but didn’t start until 1:30, because, as one expertly coiffed drag queen informed me, “We’re on gay time now, Father!”
The parade slowly began its journey through downtown Columbus, with over 15,000 spectators. Archbishop Phillip joined in the parade and beckoned for the clergy to walk together as a group, all of us wearing our collars. And then, something amazing happened.
Slowly but steadily the realization that we were Catholic priests dawned on the spectators and the cheering and applause began, softly at first, then growing in volume and intensity. Some called out with requests for prayers, others asked for a blessing, and still some others actually broke ranks and ran into the street to hug us and thank us for being there. Of course, some of the spectators were no doubt aware of the parish of St. Sebastian and the AIDS house they run as a parish ministry. Most of the spectators, however, knew nothing except that we were there: a half dozen Catholic priests who dared to show solidarity with a population that is among the most despised and rejected in history. To these we appeared as heros and the accolades and cheers only made me realize all the more clearly how deeply people need acceptance and love from those who claim to bring the Gospel of Jesus.
A half mile or so into the parade, we encountered the fundamentalist protesters with their words of hate and judgment. Many of them shook their bibles at us while holding signs that read, “God Hates Fags” and “Fags Will Burn”. Most disturbing were the young children they had enlisted into their ranks—some of them not even 12 years old, spewing the hatred of their pastors and parents. Some of them called us pedophiles and perverts, with warnings to parents to keep their little boys away from us. Fortunately, Dykes on Bikes were there to help keep the peace; with the heavy police presence there was never any real danger. To our relief, we learned that if we prompted the people around the protesters to cheer, it was easy to drown out the hatred with joy and celebration. There were also anti-fundamentalist signs directed at these folks, so all in all it was clear that the brigade of hate was a tiny minority that day. Nonetheless, all of that was upsetting and I had a difficult time getting to sleep that night, remembering the angry faces of children, poised to commit violence in the name of a God they thought would approve.
After the parade we spent time on the festival grounds where I was scheduled to say Mass later that afternoon. A small chapel area had been set up by the Archbishop’s people and one of my dear priest friends, Mother Susan, was counseling a young homeless man with HIV. He had attended her Mass earlier that afternoon and was looking for acceptance and love from the Church in which he had grown up. He found it that day in the attentive ear and warm embrace of Susan. I was privy to only part of their conversation, but at one point I heard him say to her, “I ain’t nothing but recycled trash, garbage that no one wants.” In her profound way of going right to the heart of any situation, she placed her hands on his shoulders, looked him in the eye and said, “My dear, we are all recycled garbage and that is what makes us so beautiful and irresistible to God.” He wept and so did she. It was a miracle, standard fare for those like Susan who work day in and day out, with the most rejected of God’s children.
The truth is, we are all recycled and recycling in significant ways: we come into this life innocent, with high expectations and a fundamental need to be loved and cherished. Sometimes we have these needs met, and sometimes not. We fumble, we hurt, we win, we triumph. Through it all we recycle the hurts and disappointments into something positive, insights we can share with someone else, something beautiful for the One who loves us just as we are. Looking behind, we see the littered remains of the pain and disappointments that have brought us to this moment in time. From the peak, however, we see our life for what it is becoming as a result of the challenging times. We glimpse an incredible view. We begin to see the interconnectedness of all people. We begin to see the underlying unity that belies our diversity. We begin to see it all through the eyes of God.
Msgr. Michel Holland is pastor of Holy Redeemer Reformed Catholic Church in Fort Wayne. He is also Formation Director for the Reformed Catholic Church.