Building Bridges Between Catholic, LGBT Communities

Three years ago, Sharon Carpenter read Father James Martin’s “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” The longtime Westporter was challenged and inspired by the Jesuit priest’s lighthearted yet loving exploration of ancient Galilee and Judea, and his exploration of how Jesus speaks to believers today.

When Sharon’s husband Sam decided to treat her to a 30th wedding anniversary trip to the Holy Land, he figured a Father Martin-led trip was just the ticket.

Father James Martin

Sam — who is not Catholic — did not realize Father Martin is a Big Name in Catholic commentary. A Wharton Business School graduate who entered seminary in 1988 after 6 years with GE Capital, he’s written extensively — and been interviewed by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Stephen Colbert and Terry Gross.

Father Martin’s tour had been sold out for a year. The wait list held 400 names.

But Sam said if anyone dropped out at the last minute, they’d be ready to go.

Miraculously, there was a cancellation. Sam and Sharon got the call.

The trip was all she’d dreamed of. Father Martin was a warm, wonderful — and brilliant — guide.

Though Sam was the only non-Catholic in the group of 40, Father Martin asked him to read the Beatitudes at the Mount. “He’s that kind of guy,” she says admiringly.

Sharon and Sam Carpenter in the Holy Land.

After the trip, the Carpenters remained friends with Father Martin.

As the publication date neared for his new book, he asked Sharon to help with the launch.

Building a Bridge — appropriately published on Tuesday, during this month when the LGBT community celebrates Pride — is a passionate plea for Catholic leaders to relate to their LGBT flock with compassion and openness.

The book was a response, in part, to last year’s Orlando massacre at the Pulse club. Father Martin felt that Catholic church leaders had not spoken strongly enough about the LGBT aspect.

His voice is important: Earlier this year, Pope Francis appointed him a consultor for the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication.

Sharon read the galleys. “He brings faith back to the basics,” she said. “It’s all about being sensitive and welcoming.”

Still, she wondered about the reaction if she tried to arrange a launch party here.

She needn’t have worried.

Father Andy Varga of St. Luke — the parish where Sharon has been active for 25 years — offered the church for an event. Father Tom Thorne of Assumption wanted it at his church too.

St. Luke was chosen to host the Thursday, June 29 (7:30 p.m.) talk, Q-and-A and book signing by Father Martin.

But there’s more. Father Varga put out the word to Westport’s interfaith clergy group. Father Thorne has publicized it in parishes around Fairfield County.

Other groups are also promoting it. The Triangle Community Center — Fairfield County’s LGBT organization — is all in. So are the Westport Library, Barnes & Noble, and the (Jesuit) Fairfield University bookstore.

Sharon’s book club and prayer group are also excited to hear Father Martin.

As Pride Month winds down, Sharon Carpenter could not be more proud.

(Click here  for more information on Father Martin’s St. Luke talk.)

4 responses to “Building Bridges Between Catholic, LGBT Communities

  1. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Maybe start on the same side and cross the bridge together. Its called ecumenicalism. No you or me just us.

  2. Nancy Hunter

    Why does it have to be so difficult?

  3. Dolores Bacharach

    Dan, thanks for giving us the information on this event and the back story as well. Pope Francis tells us, if we aren’t building bridges we aren’t true believers. You are a bridge builder too,Dan by sharing the information as to where and when on so much going on in our community.

  4. Ray Abramson

    I knew Father Jim before he became Father Jim!. Spent some of that GE time together in New York and Stamford. Great individual and wonderful to see him become such an influence in the Church..