Article taken from The Sunday Times of Malta, 7 August 2016 by Fr Joe Borg
Francis was the third pope to walk along the streets of horror of Auschwitz-Birkenau. During World War II those streets were the via dolorosa where hundreds of thousands agonised their daily passion and trudged along on their way to untimely death in a gas chamber.
Pope John Paul II, the pope from the land of the victims of the war, made his pilgrimage to these concentration camps on June 7, 1979, shouting from his heart “No more war!” Pope Benedict XVI, the pope from the land whose people committed the horror, made the pilgrimage on May 28, 2006.
His speech there about the silence of God is one of the best renderings of the subject.
The pope from the land which welcomed so many Nazi criminals after the war delivered a silent homily, walking along the streets of hell asking for the ‘grace to cry’. Before leaving the cell of Fr Maximilian Kolbe, Francis wrote: “Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgive so much cruelty.”
The vast majority of the victims of this cruelty were Jews. But there were others as well. There were Catholics, political prisoners, gypsies, people with disabilities as well as ‘the men in the pink triangle’ – homosexuals – who suffered untold degradation, torture and death. The Pope’s pilgrimage rightly reminded us, among other things, that the history of the gay community is a long, tortuous and tortured one.
A similar sentiment was expressed recently by the German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishops’ Conference. In a keynote address at the Loyola Institute, Trinity College, Dublin, he called on society as a whole and on the Catholic Church to apologise to gays and lesbians:“The history of homosexuals in our society is a very bad history because we have done a lot to marginalise them. It is not so long ago, and consequently, as Church and as society, we have to say sorry.”
Pope Francis commented on Marx’s statement on his return flight from Armenia to Rome on June 27. The Pope referred to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that teaches that homosexuals should be treated with respect. He added: “I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor, too; to the women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labour. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons...”
While sectors of the militant gay lobby adopt strategies which some consider to be divisive, this book is a welcome attempt to bring about more understanding, caring and harmony.
It is interesting that the Pope then widened his discourse to go beyond the institutional Church:
“When I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy; we are sinners. Christians must ask forgiveness for not having accompanied so many choices, so many families.”
Once more Pope Francis is referring to “accompaniment”, a leitmotiv of his pastoral strategy which he fully explains in his post-synodal exhortation The Joy of Love. Accompaniment does not mean approving of what is done but loving the person who does it. It means substituting a judgmental attitude which condemns to a caring attitude. It means accompanying someone through thick and thin, independently of whether you agree or not with that person. Accompaniment reflects “God’s indulgent love [which] always accompanies our human journey” (para. 62).
Francis’s pastoral strategy of accompanying “so many choices, so many families” contrasts with the traditional attitude of exclusion or, at best, marginalisation. Cardinal Raymond Burke championed the traditional marginalising pastoral strategy. In 2014 he was asked by the website LifeSiteNews whether parents should let their son bring his gay partner for a Christmas family gathering where grandchildren are present. Burke said that the parents should not invite their son “who not only suffers from same-sex attraction, but who has chosen to live out that attraction, to act upon it, committing acts which are always and everywhere wrong, evil”. He added that same-sex relationships make people “profoundly unhappy”.
Quite naturally he did not bother to prove in any way his wild, untrue and insensitive statement about the state of happiness, or otherwise, of people in gay relationships.
On the other hand the Pope’s pastoral strategy of accompaniment is clearly evident in Uliedna Rigal (Our Children are a Gift), a book recently published by the Drachma Parents Group. This group is made up of a Catholic parents, relatives and friends of LGBTIQs, who pray together, encourage one another and accompany LGBTIQ people to – as their Facebook page states – “create more awareness of the benefits and opportunities that unity, inclusion and love can provide”.
The book’s dedication is a shocker: “To those parents who lost an LGBTIQ son or daughter because they committed suicide.” How horrible that such things have taken place – lack of accompaniment can kill!
The book then moves forward without any shred of bitterness or anger. On the contrary, a positive attitude is the spirit that animates it and helped the authors to consider their children as a gift who should be welcomed and appreciated. Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, during a Xarabank programme aired last March, expressed similar sentiments.
Fifty practical questions faced by parents of LGBTIQ children are posed and answered. Experience, guided where needed by research, but most of all imbued with unconditional love, underpins the answers. A number of true, moving stories are recounted by parents and individuals who had to face their gender orientation or that of their children. The book is mainly addressed to parents of LGBTIQ children but is also a must-read to understand and empathise with LGBTIQs.
The Nazi-imposed pink triangles of exclusion have now been replaced by the colours of the rainbow, a symbol of harmony and peace. Such should be the manner of existing between different groups in society. While sectors of the militant gay lobby adopt strategies which some consider to be divisive, this book, fortunately, is a welcome attempt to bring about more understanding, caring and harmony within the gay community as well as between the same community and the rest of society.