September 16, 2015 at 10:58 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT Catholics, families hold out hope for papal meeting
Lui Akira Francesco Matsuo, Pope Francis, Catholic, gay news, Washington Blade

Lui Akira Francesco Matsuo, a transgender man from Detroit, is among the LGBT Catholics who hope to meet with Pope Francis while in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Lui Akira Francesco Matsuo)

A group of LGBT Catholics and their families continue to hold out hope that Pope Francis will meet with them during his upcoming trip to the U.S.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a group for LGBT Catholics, her wife and their two children are among the 21 people who are expected to travel to Philadelphia next week with Equality Blessed Families, a coalition of groups within the church that support LGBT-specific issues, to attend the World Meeting of Families.

Francis on Sept. 26 is scheduled to visit the World Meeting of Families upon his arrival in Philadelphia from New York. The Argentine-born pontiff on Sept. 27 is slated to hold a Mass at the triennial event and meet with organizers and volunteers before returning to Rome.

Observers with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent weeks indicate it is likely Francis would meet with the LGBT Catholics and their families while in Philadelphia, if he accepts their invitation.

Rosa Manriquez of Los Angeles, who has two lesbian daughters, is among those who hope to meet Francis in Philadelphia. She told the Blade on Monday during a telephone interview that she still plans to attend the World Meeting of Families, “whether I see the pope or not.”

“It’s very important that he, just like any other person, puts a face on another human being,” said Manriquez.

Lui Akira Francesco Matsuo, a transgender man who was born in Japan, works for the Call to Action Vision Council, a Catholic organization that seeks to create what he described to the Blade as “a more inclusive environment for all people.”

Matsuo said on Tuesday during a Skype interview from Detroit where he lives that he would like to meet with Francis on behalf of trans Catholics “who cannot be out yet” because of their families or concerns over their personal safety. Matsuo during the interview repeatedly referenced St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order who abandoned his life of affluence in order to live and work among the poor and marginalized.

Francis — the former archbishop of Buenos Aires who was then known as Jorge Bergoglio — took the name Francis after the College of Cardinals in 2013 elected him to succeed Pope Benedict XIV who stepped down.

“I truly believe that our Creator did not only give us the gift of this physical body,” Matsuo told the Blade. “I believe that the mind is the most precious gift that was given, and mine just happened to be a transgender mind.”

“I still reflect an aspect of God, just like every other person has an aspect of reflection of God as we are all created in God’s image,” he added. “I want (Francis) to see me and other transgender individuals like that and embrace us.”

Francis needs ‘a conversion’ like namesake

Duddy-Burke in July wrote a letter in which she, GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis and other groups urged Francis to meet with LGBT Catholics while in the U.S. The Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, an independent advocacy group on the Communist island, also sent a letter to the pope ahead of his visit to their country.

“We hope that you will give us the chance to explain our situation to you, to speak about our rights in order to begin a historical approach between the Catholic church and the LGBTI community in Cuba,” wrote Nelson Gandulla Díaz, the group’s president, in a July 29 letter from the Cuban city of Cienfuegos. “This would be gratifying and significant for us.”

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Nelson Gandulla Díaz, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, stands outside his home in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on May 15, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Advocates have welcomed the Vatican’s more moderate tone on marriage rights for same-sex couples, homosexuality and other social issues since Francis became pope. They are nevertheless quick to point out that church doctrine has not changed.

“Dios is not necessarily the institution,” Manriquez told the Blade, using the Spanish word for God. “When the institution tells me to do something that is hurtful to my family, no.”

Matsuo pointed out to the Blade that the Vatican earlier this month said trans people are unable to become godparents. He also noted that Francis once compared the concept of gender identity to nuclear weapons.

“Pope Francis too needs a conversion just like St. Francis had,” said Matsuo.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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