A reader writes:
(Small correction; it's "Most Holy Redeemer.") I was a member there and sang in the choir for several years when William Levada, who is now Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican, was archbishop. The church was absolutely full every week, thanks to the visionary priest assigned there in the early '80's to close it down due to poor numbers but who instead roamed the Castro is his clerical garb engaging disaffected former Catholics in conversation and asking them to "just show up" and see if there wasn't some way the Church and they could find a middle ground.
The parish never had any trouble making its obligatory payments to the archdiocese, so our reactionary archbishop kept his distance and let us do our thing, which was to worship and pray as both faithful & questioning Catholics. The pastor and his assisting priest, a remarkable older man assigned from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) order and who was the finest homilist I'd ever heard, were terrific. I said then and still do that MHR is an excellent model of what the Catholic church can and should be in practice. I'm afraid what the Catholic Church is currently doing instead right now is sowing the seeds of its ultimate demise in generations to come, which is too bad. Vatican II and John XXIII showed the world in one shining moment that it really has so much more to offer, and rare parishes such as MHR continue to be the living proof.
Your post on Most Holy Redeemer Church brought a tear to my eye because both my Irish Catholic grandmother and my Italian Catholic grandfather spent their last days in hospice care at Most Holy Redeemer. When they died (of cancer in 1989 and 1991, respectively), the AIDS epidemic had caused widespread devastation in San Francisco particularly. As you can imagine, many of the other people in hospice were gay men at last yielding to a disease which had no cure and (at the time) very limited treatment options. At least here these men dying of AIDS were surrounded by love and compassion from their friends and caregivers.
As my mother and her sisters prepared to mourn their parents, these men were mourning their friends and lovers. United by death, they were also embraced by a respect for life. Like many Catholics, my family experienced the cultural upheavals of the 1960s and Vatican II, with many family members leaving the fold and others staying, and I still have conflicted feelings about the Church's medieval attitudes towards women and gays. But in San Francisco, at least, in what many regard as the most tolerant city in the country, we found a refuge when we needed it.
There's clearly much work to be done in bringing people together and resolving conflicts, but I'm glad to see that such an inclusive place still exists 20 years after we said goodbye to my grandparents.
When I find myself struggling with love, I reread I Corinthians: 13.
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