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People Wonder Why and then St. Patrick's Demonstrates Why


Lots of people wonder why folks are leaving the church. Why aren't churches full? Why don't younger families come? Why do people say the Church is hypocritical?  But last week we got a vivid picture of why churches seem out of step to many people. It happened at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.


Cecelia Gentili died on February 6 at 52. She was an actress and an activist who advocated for sex workers, folks living with HIV and people who are transgender. With her one-woman show, off Broadway, she called attention to the pain and suffering of people who are ridiculed and abused. In her street community she was a hero. Two weeks ago, when she died, her family asked for her funeral to be held at St. Patrick’s, and the priests in charge agreed to officiate.


Everything would have been just fine if only a few people had mourned Ms. Gentili.  But, instead, 1000 people packed the pews to celebrate Gentili’s life and grieve this loss. They remembered her as a prophet of the streets who “ministered, and mothered and loved all people”.  They told stories, laced their accolades with edgy language and celebrated her colorful life.


In the days that followed, the Roman Catholic archdiocese was in an uproar. The exuberance of this gathering had shaken the church’s hierarchy. They issued a statement, condemning the funeral of this transgender community leader, calling the event an insult to the Catholic faith. The irony here is hard to overlook or overstate. These priests have pledged their lives to follow a man who ate with prostitutes; yet they are now second guessing their decision to bury someone who ministered to sex workers.


Sadly, there is a lot to grieve here.  I grieve for the trans community. Though they had a moment at St. Patrick’s, a moment that was meant to be and a moment no one can erase, it feels liek a rejection. Though Gentili got the send off she deserved, in a society, where increasingly non-binary people can be bullied with impunity even with lethal results, moments like this funeral feel like they’ve been stolen, or dropped like crumbs from the tables of power. So, I grieve for this community that is dogged by persecution, even when they try to mourne.


Then, I grieve for the Church. This might have been so different. Church leaders might have embraced the family of Cecelia Gentili and been a compassionate place for all the mourners who came to this gathering. instead, they turned on these mourners. And I grieve for everyone who missed the fact that Jesus was no doubt there at that funeral, among the mourners. Surely, he was. When those priests opened the doors to the sex workers, and the trans community they let the Risen Christ slip in too. Sadly, when they, or any of us, shut those same doors on the people we are meant to serve, we shut the doors on the Lord who never abandons them.






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WOW! This is so powerful, Susan! Thank you for being a profit in this moment. 💕

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