A GENERATION OF HOPE
On June 5, 1988, a small group of gay and lesbian Catholics celebrated their first mass as a newly organized ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago, especially created to reach out to Chicago’s LGBT community. The new ministry was named the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach of Chicago, and its acronym – AGLO – was no coincidence. For over 25 years, AGLOChicago has labored to reflect the light of Christ’s love, offering its dazzling promise to people long forced to live in shadows, not wholly unlike the first Christians.
Within the Catholic Church, the great seismic uplift of the Second Vatican Council freed the faithful to “seek its own level,” reaching out to all God’s children in inspired new ways. Today, AGLOChicago has made much progress in increasing awareness that all Catholics, including LGBT faithful, share in the one baptism of the Holy Trinity as full members of the Universal Church. AGLOChicago’s mission was, and is, one of outreach to LGBT Catholics, to welcome them home to the love of Christ – and in so doing, help them to “be Christ to one another.”
AGLOChicago has endured to this day through planning, debate, compromise, and of course, prayer. In 2013, we gathered to offer praise and thanksgiving for 25 years of community, celebrating a past filled with rigors and comfort, a joyous present, and a hopeful future for better lives in a better world.
And let us also remember all those men and women who worked tirelessly to build this welcoming home for LGBT Catholics. Like the Church itself, the 25th anniversary was not a final destination, but only a guidepost along our ongoing journey of life. Relations between human beings, including intolerance, pass through the filters of any society’s needs, environments, priorities, but our Savior made no such distinctions: Jesus’ arms, spread upon the cross, offer an embrace for everyone, everywhere, and always.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. AMEN.
“BUILDING COMMUNITY: ONE BODY IN CHRIST” (Romans, 12L 5-6A)
Though AGLOChicago has celebrated over 25 years of community, it was not born easily; it was the product of anguish, compromise, and a devoted effort at inclusion. It arose in place of Dignity/Chicago, 15 years after that first semi-official organization for LGBT Catholic Chicagoans was formed.
In response to the Vatican’s 1986 publication, “The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” the Archdiocese denied of the use of church facilities to all who were not in full communion with Catholic teaching, which left Dignity/Chicago seeking a new home within the community. This document, while affirming the dignity of all people, also directed bishops to withdraw support from groups actively contradicting Church teachings on homosexuality.
This directive presented Chicago’s archbishop at the time, the beloved Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, with a heartfelt dilemma. As a prince of the Church, he was duty-bound to obey orders from the Vatican, but also felt his pastoral charge required him to offer the embrace of God’s love to a group of God's children long treated as undeserving. Cardinal Bernardin worked several lay members of the LGBT community for more than a year to develop an arrangement that would satisfy Rome’s order, yet maintain an outreach to the LGBT community.
His solution was AGLOChicago. Owing to Cardinal Bernardin’s commitment and steadfast efforts, in June 1988, the new LGBT ministry was established, and celebrated its first liturgy at St. Sebastian Church.
TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH
When AGLOChicago was not yet three years old, its existence was threatened by disaster. Its first home, St. Sebastian Church near the corner of Halsted and Wellington streets (where the campus of Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital now stands) suffered an electrical fire late one night in 1991. The church was burned beyond repair. At the time, the Archdiocese was in the process of consolidating parishes, and simply not rebuilding St. Sebastian would have allowed some other parish to remain open, meaning that, along with its home church, AGLOChicago might simply have been allowed to disappear.
But by then AGLOChicago was too much a part of the spiritual lives of its members to vanish without protest. Such support was demonstrated after the fire, when graffiti evoking The Resurrection appeared in the ruins of St. Sebastian. With a pink triangle in the place of the letter “A”, the Latin word "resurgam" - “I Shall Rise Again” - was scrawled on plywood covering a shattered window.
And AGLOChicago did rise again. Cardinal Bernardin’s dream was kept alive as members celebrated Mass in the gymnasium of St. Sebastian’s school, until the parish was finally closed. It was at this time that Fr. Thomas Healy, pastor of neighboring Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Belmont Avenue, along with the parishioners reached out their hands to their gay and lesbian siblings with an offer to host the ministry.
Both before and after the fire, AGLOChicago was being tested in other ways during its early years. At that time, the outbreak of the AIDS crisis struck hard at Chicago's LGBT community. AGLOChicago members were not spared. The disease claimed many of its members, including some who had made great contributions to its origins, survival and mission. Founders lost to the disease during these years. Although they lost their mortal lives, AGLOChicago will always be a living memorial to those members and to others who helped AGLOChicago, with their faith and devotion, to endure and flourish. In gratitude, they should be especially cherished in our memories and in our prayers.
But the terrible experience of AIDS also brought forth remarkable generosity from AGLOChicago’s members, who rose to the challenge of the epidemic. They contributed time, money, professional expertise and life-prolonging concern to assist people suffering of this scourge.
The AIDS epidemic was a trying chapter in AGLOChicago’s history, but it also enabled us to witness and practice a core Christian belief: reaching across the bridge of our shared humanity to help the afflicted, and to offer them (and thus, ourselves) a hope beyond mortal life and death. The community worked very closely with the Alexian Brothers, an vowed order of Catholic religious men who were the the very first to care for those dying during the epidemic by establishing Bonaventure House in the former convent of St. Sebastian Church. Our Catholic faith is no passive backdrop to existence: It asserts that there may be divine purpose even in seemingly incomprehensible calamity, if it summons the greatest that is in us to give: strength of which we are not otherwise capable. To this day AGLOChicago maintains ties with Bonaventure House and Catholic Charities HIV/AIDS ministries.
“AND THE DARKNESS HAS NOT OVERCOME IT” (John, 1:5)
Our original benefactor Cardinal Bernardin died in 1996, but his work lives on in many ways, including AGLOChicago’s flourishing ministry. Over the years, attendance has grown steadily at our weekly 7:00 pm Sunday Mass, from the 55 people at the first liturgy, to 700 attendees at our 10th anniversary liturgy. Today, AGLOChicago boasts over 400 members from across the Midwest, all joined by a common faith. Gay and lesbian people, along with their allied supporters from all over the metropolitan area gather each Sunday to participate in the Liturgy celebrated by priests from Chicagoland parishes and religious congregations, who offer to preside over a congregation with shared experiences and shared challenges.
And the daily life of AGLOChicago has been far more than weekly Mass. We were proud to sponsor the 5th Annual Conference of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries (calgm.org) when it was held in Chicago in 1999, and has been a long time member and supporter of this networking organization. In 2000, in cooperation with Luke Carr, AGLOSouth was established at St. Emeric Parish in Country Club Hills, and served LGBT Catholics in the far south suburbs for over five years.
The community has continued to respond to the needs of its members forming groups such as, AGLO en Español, Women of AGLO, and AGLO Young Adults which allow members to support and affirm each other, while our Social Justice group works to encourage members to put the message of the Gospels into concrete action in the world.
While the weekly Mass and the Sacraments are the focus of AGLO’s activities, spiritual growth opportunities are also integral parts of its mission. Retreats and Days of Reflection offer members a chance to share experience and hopes. Members have the opportunity to join with friends for prayer and discussion by participating in faith-sharing groups such as Walking with Scripture. Also, during the social hour after Mass every Sunday, friends can catch up with each other or meet someone new. Social events, education programs and renewed and continuing outreach efforts will remain on AGLOChicago’s agenda for the benefit of Gay and Lesbian Catholics now, and in the future.
AGLOChicago has accomplished much, but our every step forward only reveals more to be done, even as contemporary society becomes more tolerant. AGLOChicago has, indeed, seen a “generation of hope” in the face of adversity, and very real sorrows that could easily have generated despair. As such, this ministry is fulfilling its own mandate of serving God’s people, offering hope to those who may see little reason for hope, and thus helping to nourish the promise of Redemption which Jesus Christ offered to the entire human family.