My Weekend with Francis

Pope Francis
AP Photo

Believe me, I looked super cute on Friday in my light pink Polo shirt and grey chinos, accented only by my dangling silver cross and a rainbow-colored rubber bracelet that read 'PRIDE.' I had methodically planned out my outfit once I learned that I'd be among the 20,000 Catholics, some of them LGBT, who'd attend Mass at Madison Square Garden with Pope Francis.

I rethought my wardrobe a couple of times upon arriving at the venue with a fellow parishioner. Standing in the longest, most ridiculous line imaginable, a good portion of which was in the blaring sun, I had to remind myself that the roughly four hours waiting was worth the sweat. Unless I missed Jennifer Hudson and Gloria Estefan performing at the pre-Mass concert. Then I'd be pissed. Ok, really pissed. But the Lord hopefully wouldn't do that to this faithful gay.

When we finally made it to the entrance around 5:30 p.m., a good hour before Mass was slated to begin, we encountered a TSA agent who was a little too eager to rummage through our bags as we passed through one of the dozen or so metal detectors. Considering the occasion, I had already mentally prepared myself to go through an airport-style body scanner that would've revealed what was under those grey chinos. But alas, the only pre-show was the one already previously scheduled, which at this point was probably half over. I said a Hail Mary, just in case.

I had debated taking my small canvas bag in the first place (mostly because it didn’t match), but I needed to bring my cell phone charger and the prayer cards and rosaries my mother swears she didn't obligate me to get blessed for our family and friends. Remember, kids: Mom doesn't obligate--she just forcefully asks. The TSA employee kindly smiled as he handed me my now-disheveled items and then politely ushered me away from the throngs of physically-exhausted believers behind me who also wanted to absorb this powerful moment.

As my friend and I made our way up to our non-nose bleed seats (thank you, Jesus), the magnitude of the event finally hit me. Not only would I celebrate Mass with Pope Francis, but I was doing it alongside other members of my parish’s LGBT ministry, which I officially joined after appearing in a short documentary it produced titled ‘OwningOurFaith.’ Rumor has it the pontiff saw it this summer after he was presented with a copy. Doubting Thomas, party of one?

In all seriousness, though, I’ve been taught my entire life that blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe, and I think that definitely applies to Pope Francis. Even if he didn’t see our film, he must know that devout LGBT Catholics exist, many of whom refuse to be silenced by an institution that has historically told them that they can’t live fully and that some of their actions are inherently sinful.

Perhaps that’s why the pope indirectly made a bold declaration at Friday’s Mass, which induced goosebumps from the moment he drove into the arena. As soon as openly gay TV personality Mo Rocca took to the stage for the First Reading, all bets were off. We, as a community, were represented in one of the most visible ways possible sans fanfare, in keeping with the Francis tradition. To think that the Church hierarchy was unaware of Mo Rocca’s sexual orientation before selecting him for the prime gig would be naive and dismissive. This was a deliberate, and necessary, move to acknowledge a socially- and spiritually-marginalized group, and I was happy to take it.

The remainder of the Mass was lovely, though it went by rather quickly. Unfortunately, my attempt at making a statement with my Pride rubber bracelet while receiving Communion was thwarted by darkness. No, really. There were very few lights on where we were, so the Eucharistic minister’s laser-beam focus on my hands was crucial. It must have been God’s way of telling me that it wasn’t about me and to just sit down and be grateful. The literal shade, y’all.

My Weekend with Francis

But honestly, I was grateful for the opportunity to be a proud openly gay Latino Catholic in the presence of our Church’s most progressive leader. And as we all filed out of Madison Square Garden, each with our own unique, life-altering experience, it was clear that we shared one commonality: we were savagely hungry since outside food and drink weren’t permitted, and I personally couldn’t bring myself to buy Popecorn.

And that was just Friday! Some friends and I then traveled to Francis’s next destination, Philadelphia, to screen that OwningOurFaith documentary at an LGBT family picnic.  Margie Winters, the Catholic teacher fired by her diocese over her same-sex marriage, was among those in attendance, as was the pioneering Sister Jeannine Gramick. It was a stark reminder that there’s still a lot of work to be done to change perceptions ironically crafted by those called by God to love their neighbor.

As we left the picnic and casually strolled through Philly (quite possibly on our way to Woody’s), we stumbled upon crowds of spectators clamoring for a brief second with Pope Francis. Considering he and I already had our moment the day before, I didn’t think it would be possible to see him again. That is until we heard the cheering, and saw the running, and eventually made out a figure in white in the distance waving.

After grabbing a couple of beers at Woody’s, we returned to our friends’ apartment to watch Pope Francis get serenaded by a divalicious Aretha Franklin in bedazzled heels. Almost immediately after, an Australian couple randomly appeared on stage. In keeping with the night’s familial theme, they nervously tried reciting a memorized speech about their fears with regards to marriage, namely that its very definition was being threatened. Insert angered groans here. We tried our best to mask the taste of disgust in our mouths with white wine, but the damage was done.

Which ultimately poses the question: whose responsibility is it to help with the repairs? All I know is that we, as LGBT Catholics, are like Jennifer Hudson at the pre-Mass concert singing, "And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going." Or at least I think she sang it. Ugh—so much for my Hail Mary pass.  

Xorje Olivares is an on-air personality and a producer for SiriusXM Satellite Radio. His monthly OutQ show is titled "LGBT: Let's Get Busy Talking."

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