As a London group of LGBT Catholics were preparing to depart on a Lentent pilgrimage to Rome, they received a blessing, greetings and support from their Cardinal, Vincent Nichols:
You are at the threshold of Lent. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. What an excellent time to be on pilgrimage in Rome! You are at the thresholds of the Apostles. What an excellent place to be on pilgrimage at the beginning of Lent. May Saints Peter and Paul, and indeed all the Apostles, be your constant teachers, guides and companions throughout your stay in Rome – and when you return. Their heroic witness to the life, death and resurrection of the Lord is an inspiring example for us all. May their prayers again turn your gaze to the merciful face of Jesus, who calls out to you in unfailing love. He will give you grace to be his faithful missionary disciples. May you bring others into the family of the Church, founded on the Apostles, teaching us how to follow the pathways of faithfulness to Jesus in all the different aspects of our lives. In this way may your lives be a true witness to all who are striving to find God’s love. Only Jesus can truly bring us the joy and fulfilment for which we all yearn. Let us be close to him. Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you. Please pray for me at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and at all the holy places you visit. Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all. + Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
Of particular interest in this greeting, is Cardinal Nichols’ recognition that organized groups of LGBT Catholics have the potential to bring others into the Church (“May you bring others into the family of the Church”). That was always the value of the so-called “Soho Masses”, the predecessor of the group now worshipping at the parish of the Immaculate Conception (Farm Street), and which is the group behind this pilgrimage.
In Rome, the London pilgrims will be meeting up with a larger group from New Ways Ministry, an American group of lgbt Catholics, who have frequently been denounced by some Catholic bishops and other self- appointed “guardians of the faith”, allegedly being not sufficiently Catholic. What these critics cannot see, but Cardinal Nichols and an increasing number of other prelates do understand, is that the central purpose and value of these groups is that described right in New Ways full name – New Ways Ministry.
An accompanying statement released by the London pilgrims notes that:
While in Rome, the LGBT pilgrims will take part in an audience with Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday morning, 18 February. They will be meeting up with a group of nearly 50 American LGBT Catholic pilgrims from New Ways Ministry. The two groups will meet with members of Nuova Proposta, a Rome-based LGBT Christian network. They will also be hearing from Rome-based journalists on their experience in reporting the reforming Pope Francis, now well known for his ‘Who am I to judge’ comment about LGBT Catholics, and who recently received a trans-man in private audience. Pope Francis called the newly-created Cardinals on 15 February, “to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door … to go out and seek, fearlessly and without prejudice those who are distant … to serve Jesus crucified in every marginalised person … to see the Lord in every excluded person … who encounters discrimination. We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalised.” How timely, then, will be the presence in Rome of some 60 LGBT Catholic pilgrims, parents, families, and pastoral ministers! The groups will worship in St. Mary Major Basilica, one of Rome’s 4 most important churches, including an Evening Prayer Service in the Church of St. Bartholomew-on-the-Tiber, from which London’s Bart’s Hospital has its origins. The UK pilgrims will also celebrate Mass in Cardinal Nichols’ Titular Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, as well as joining with other English-speaking Catholics in Rome for Sunday morning Mass before their return to London on 22 February. The London group will also visit a number of historic and artistic sites in Rome which have particular LGBT connections. The Pilgrimage takes place mid-way between the Catholic Church’s 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops which for the first time considered the pastoral needs of LGBT Catholics and their families. Members of the groups also hope to meet with some key Vatican officials to discuss the 2015 Synod of Bishops Agenda.