Gerard O’ConnellJune 27, 2021
Pope Francis greets Jesuit Father James Martin, author and editor at large of America magazine, during a private meeting at the Vatican Oct. 1, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)Pope Francis greets Jesuit Father James Martin, author and editor at large of America magazine, during a private meeting at the Vatican Oct. 1, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis has again encouraged the ministry of James Martin, S.J., to L.G.B.T. persons, and with words that could also encourage others in this work. He did so on the eve of the Outreach 2021 L.G.B.T. Catholic ministry conference that took place by webinar this Saturday, June 26, of which the Jesuit priest was the main organizer.

Some weeks ago, Father Martin, an editor at large at America Media, had informed the pope about the conference in a private mail and explained its purpose and then received a handwritten personal letter in Spanish from Francis, dated June 21, expressing his encouragement and support for this work.

On the eve of the Outreach 2021 L.G.B.T. conference, Father Martin received a handwritten personal letter in Spanish from Francis, expressing his support.

As is well known, Francis tends to make personal phone calls to people, but what is less well known is his habit of sending personal, handwritten messages to people—usually in Spanish, and often in response to letters they sent him. Though he sometimes explicitly asks for the letter to remain confidential, he usually lets it up to the recipient to decide whether to make its contents known or not. Father Martin, after consulting with persons who know the pope, decided he could reveal its contents.

While the letter’s first paragraph is familiar, personal, even humorous, and relates to Father Martin’s nephew who took the name Francisco for confirmation, the rest of the text refers to his outreach ministry to L.G.B.T. persons including through this weekend’s conference, which the Jesuit priest had told him about.

As is well known, Francis tends to make personal phone calls to people, but what is less well known is his habit of sending personal, handwritten messages.

Francis is well informed of the work Father Martin is doing. He has sought to encourage him in this ministry and for this reason, in a significant public gesture of encouragement and support, he received him in a private audience in the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on September 30, 2019.

His letter on the eve of Saturday’s outreach conference can be understood in this same light. Addressing him as “Querido Hermano” (“Dear brother”), Francis commends Father Martin for all this work, saying, “I want to thank you for your pastoral zeal and your ability to be close to people, with that closeness that Jesus had, and which reflects the closeness of God.”

He reminds him, “Our Heavenly Father approaches with love each one of his children, each and every one [of them]. His heart is to open to each and every one. He is Father.”

“I want to thank you for your pastoral zeal and your ability to be close to people, with that closeness that Jesus had, and which reflects the closeness of God.”

Here, the pope emphasizes yet again that God’s love does not exclude. He made the same point to parents of L.G.B.T. children at the end of a public audience in the Vatican on Sept. 17, 2020, when he told them, “God loves your children as they are.”

In his letter to Father Martin, Pope Francis repeats what he has said many times before, “God’s ‘style’ has three aspects: closeness, compassion and tenderness. This is how he draws closer to each one of us.”

Referring explicitly to the Jesuit priest’s “pastoral work” of which the conference is a part, the pope remarks, “I see that you are continually seeking to imitate this style of God. You are a priest for all men and women, just as God is Father for all men and women.”

Significantly, Francis encourages Father Martin to continue with this ministry. “I pray for you to continue in this way, being close, compassionate and with great tenderness.”

As he concludes his letter, Pope Francis offers encouraging words to all those whom the American Jesuit is reaching through his ministry. He says, “And I pray for your faithful, your ‘parishioners,’ and all those whom the Lord places [in your way], so that you may care for them, so that you may protect them, and make them grow in the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear brother:

Thank you for your mail and for the photos. Please thank your nephew for his kindness to me and for having chosen the name Francisco. And congratulate him on the socks. He made me laugh. Tell him that I pray for him and ask him to do so for me.

Regarding your P.S. [about the Outreach LGBT Ministry Conference], I want to thank you for your pastoral zeal and your ability to be close to people, with that closeness that Jesus had and that reflects the closeness of God. Our Heavenly Father approaches with love every one of his children, each and everyone. His heart is to open to each and everyone. He is Father. God’s “style” has three aspects: closeness, compassion and tenderness. This is how he draws closer to each one of us.

Thinking about your pastoral work, I see that you are continuously looking to imitate this style of God. You are a priest for all men and women, just as God is the Father for all men and women. I pray for you to continue in this way, being close, compassionate and with great tenderness.

And I pray for your faithful, your “parishioners,” and anyone whom the Lord places in your care, so that you protect them, and make them grow in the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Please don’t forget to pray for me. May Jesus bless you and may the Holy Virgin protect you.

Fraternally,

Francisco

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