Tag Archives: lesbian

Vigil For LGBTQ Orlando Victims — Vigilia por las víctimas LGBTQ de Orlando

I shared these words with the Madison community during a vigil in honor of the victims of the recent massacre in Orlando. | Compartí estas palabras con la comunidad de Madison durante una vigilia en honor a las víctimas de la reciente masacre en Orlando.


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Rainbow flag with the names of the victims of the Orlando massacre. | Arcoiris de banderas con los nombres de las víctimas de la masacre de Orlando.

Buenas tardes, y gracias por decir “presente” en esta vigilia de recordación de nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Orlando. Soy el Rvdo. J. Manny Santiago, director ejecutivo de “The Crossing” un ministerio ecuménico para estudiantes en la Universidad de Wisconsin – Madison. Estaré compartiendo con ustedes unas palabras en español y luego en inglés. | Good afternoon and thank you for being here at this vigil honoring the siblings we lost in Orlando. I am the Rev. J. Manny Santiago, Executive Director of The Crossing campus ministry at the UW-Madison. I will share some words in Spanish first and then in English.

Español

No es fácil para mí el encontrar las palabras para compartir con nuestra comunidad. Hay ocasiones en el ministerio cuando tragedias como la que hemos sufrido nos dejan así: sin palabras, con dolor, con furia y confusión. Al mismo tiempo, sabemos que necesitamos levantar nuestras voces, ya sea para animarnos los unos a los otros, para denunciar injusticias o, en ocasiones, hasta para cuestionar la bondad de Dios cuando solo que podemos ver es violencia y muerte. Todo eso es parte del proceso de duelo y nadie nos debe decir que no sintamos estas cosas. Para mí, he pasado por todas esas etapas en menos de una semana: he sentido dolor, rabia, miedo, confusión y hasta he cuestionado la bondad de Dios que sirvo.

¿Por qué? Pues porque la tragedia de Orlando me ha tocado muy de cerca. No solamente tengo familia en Orlando – algunos de los cuales asisten al Club Pulse de vez en cuando – sino que, igual que la mayoría de las víctimas, soy Latino, puertorriqueño y abiertamente gay. Sí, soy un hombre Latino, pastor y gay. Desde pequeño escuché que esas cosas no podrían vivir juntas en una sola persona. Ese discurso de odio y rechazo que escuché de pequeño en la Iglesia me llevó a cuestionar, no solo mi identidad, sino el mismo amor de Dios y mi familia. Hoy muchas personas – políticos, líderes religiosos, etc. – están tratando de borrar las identidades de las víctimas de la masacre de Orlando. No queremos reconocer que son personas LGBTQ, no queremos reconocer que en su mayoría eran Latinos, no queremos reconocer que había entre ellos personas sin documentos… Algunas personas incluso han intentado poner a nuestras comunidades Latinas o LGBTQ en contra de la comunidad Musulmana.

Para mí, como persona de fe, Latino, puertorriqueño, gay, quiero dejarle saber a todas las personas que estamos tratando de hacer sentido de la tragedia: no va a ser un proceso fácil. Necesitamos crear espacios para procesar el dolor, el miedo, e inclusive para cuestionar la bondad de Dios. Pero en ningún momento podemos dejar de luchar por la justicia, por la paz, por reformas legislativas que ayuden a las comunidades de minoría. Reconozcamos que, en especial en nuestras comunidades Latinas, es tiempo de rechazar el machismo, la homofobia, la violencia, el racismo, la islamofobia y el heterosexismo que tanto permea entre nosotros. Es tiempo de levantarnos en unidad, en honor a todas las victimas de tragedias como esta y decir: ¡BASTA!

Que el Dios que se revela de muchas formas y de muchos nombres nos llene de valor, de amor, de sabiduría y de paz para hacer el trabajo…

___

English

It is not easy for me to find the words to share with you today. There are moments in ministry when tragedies like the one we have just witnessed leave us like this: without words, in pain, furious, and confused. At the same time, we know that we must lift up our voices, whether to support each other, to denounce injustices and even, on occasion, to question God’s goodness when the only thing we can see is violence and death. All this is part of the mourning process and nobody should tell us that we should not have these feelings. As for me, I have gone through all of these stages in the past week: I have been in pain, furious, scared, confused, and yes, I have questioned God’s goodness.

Why? Because the tragedy in Orlando is too close to me. I have family in Orlando – some of whom frequent Pulse Club – but also because, like the majority of the victims, I am Latino, Puerto Rican and openly queer. Yes, I am a gay, Latino pastor. Since childhood I’ve heard that these things cannot coexist. This discourse of hatred and rejection that I heard in Church brought me to question, not only my identity as a human being, but also God’s and my family’s love towards me. Today, many people – politicians and religious leaders in particular – are trying to erase the many identities that the victims embodied. Many do not want to recognize that the victims where LGBTQ, they do not want to recognize that the victims were Latino, they don’t want to recognize that among them there were people without proper documentation to work in the USA… Some have even tried to put our LGBTQ and Latino communities against the Muslim community.

As for me, as a person of faith, as a Latino, a Puerto Rican, and gay, I want to make it clear to all: trying to make sense of this tragedy will not be easy. We must build spaces to process the pain, the fear, and even to question God’s goodness. But under no circumstances must we stop working for justice, for peace, and for legislative reforms that would support minority communities. We, Latinos, must recognize that it is time to reject our machismo, our homophobia, our worshiping of death and violence, our Islamophobia, our racism, and our heterosexism. It is time to rise up, together, in honor of these victims and all the other victims of past violence, and say: ENOUGH!

May the God who is revealed in many forms grant us courage, and love, and wisdom, and peace for the work ahead of us…

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What Will Come…

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(I wrote this poem as a reaction to the recent events of terror and homophobia that have taken from us 49 of our siblings in the city of Orlando, FL.)

What will come
When the lights of the candles are extinguished
When the rage of the moment has passed
When the strength we have found
In community tonight
Has faded into the memory land

What will come
When the queers are once more
Pushed into hiding
When our voices are
Once more overwhelmed
By the money and power
Of the radical hate

What will come
When our tears are silenced
And when our pain is ignored
And when our strength faints
And our wounds are too deep but forgotten

What will happen
When the deafening silence
Of our so-called allies
Becomes once again
The norm

What will happen
When the prayers are fading
When the hugs are no more
When the lights are shut down
And the cold of the night
Overcomes our fickle souls
When the next attention-grabbing
Political squabble
Erases forever
The names and the faces
Of the saints that lay down
In a desecrated sanctuary
That our kisses once housed

What will happen
Once that all is forgotten
Once that their names are not mentioned
For ever no more

What will happen
When I will look at the mirror
And realized once again
That this is not the largest
Nor the last of them
Violence
Against people like me

What will happen
Tomorrow
I wonder
What will happen
I dream.

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Rising From the Ashes

In Greek mythology there was a bird, the Phoenix, which was always reborn out of its own ashes. This image of rebirth, especially out of difficult circumstances, is not new in religion. Almost every major faith tradition shares this imagery of death and rebirth. However, the story of the Phoenix is particularly appropriate for the story of Ash Wednesday that I would ash-wednesday-usalike to share with you today.

Like the Phoenix, there are times when we need to be reborn out of our own ashes. There are situations and events in our lives that could feel like fire burning, destroying, razing with every part of who we are. Nothing can be done… unless you have the drive to be reborn.

The young man entered the sanctuary a few minutes before our Ash Wednesday service began. He came by himself. I was certain I had seen him before. As he found his way into the circle, something told me that this was a special visit for us.

I love planning the Ash Wednesday service, for it gives me the chance to use liturgies that I enjoy and share that with those who come to visit with us. It is also the one worship experience when we get the most visitors. This is always a challenge, as you want to let people know what the ministry is all about but also be true to my liturgical preferences. It is also an important time to acknowledge the truth that both light AND darkness are holy and good.

The young man’s reaction to my mentioning the goodness of darkness was my first clue. He nodded, smiled, and his whole self said that he was feeling comfortable in this space. As the service ended, many of us moved to the foyer to chat, drink some hot beverages, and share stories.

I noticed that the young man stayed looking at our ministry display intently. So I approached him to introduce myself. He immediately opened up. I mentioned that I recognized him, perhaps from last year. He said he had not been here last year, but had been to “other random event here.” Perhaps that’s where I had seen him before.

As he continued to talk, he mentioned that he knew some of the students featured in our display. We chatted about this and how all these other young people of color were involved in one way or another with our ministry. He smiled. He was feeling more and more at home. Then, we talked about the ministry and our lives. He had grown up in church, he said, but things turned bad. He had served in young people’s ministries, had served on the Board of Deacons, had taught Sunday school to children, and had been preaching since he was fifteen. But his was a conservative Baptist church. It is also an African American church, and there were cultural aspects of his culture that were more conservative than what he would like. At some point, he decided to be himself, not to hide anymore. This did not sit well with his congregation. Now, he was church-less. But he had heard about this place, this ministry and safe space for LGBT students. He gave us a chance.

It felt like a rebirth; to find a faith community that is rooted in his faith tradition, one that welcomes him, that offers others like him opportunities for growth and leadership. Like the Phoenix, the ashes brought him back to life.

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Obama’s Weak and Timid Immigration (In)Action

On November 20th, President Obama announced executive actions regarding immigration. The provision has been called “the right thing to do”, “timely” and even “bold” by individuals and organizations that portray themselves a progressive. The reality, however, is different. The recent executive action is not even close to the comprehensive reform that is sorely needed by the immigrant communities in the United States. Certainly is not timely, as the President had the chance to act on comprehensive reform when he promised, immediately after his reelection in 2012. Finally, the recent executive action is far from being bold; the action is timid and weak.

According to some experts, about 5 million immigrants will benefit from the executive action. The program has five main focus areas: expansion of the previous Deferred Action Program (DACA) for DREAMERS, allow parents of US citizens to stay in the country for up to three years without fear of deportation, expanding the waiver program that was already in place for unlawful residents, modernizing and clarifying immigrant programs, and promoting citizenship education. Of these areas, two are the most contentious: the expand of the Deferred Action and allowing parents of US citizens to stay in the country for up to three years with a provisional work permit.ImmigrationReformPassedinSenate062813

These actions, while might look like a dim light at the end of a very dark tunnel, need to be taken very seriously and with a grain of salt. Why? These programs are creating large, federal databases with enough information on undocumented residents which can be easily accessed by future administrations that might not be fond of immigrants. Currently, and up to the Election Day on 2016, there is a 50/50 chance of a Republican takeover of the White House. If the Republican candidate runs on the same platform that the party has espoused so far, this means that 5 million undocumented residents will be at the will of a hostile president who might take action in deporting them. We must remember that Obama’s executive action has a three year lifespan. This is well into the administration of the next US President, whoever that person might be.

Moreover, the executive action affects less than half of the total undocumented immigrant community. During a conversation with my spouse, who has lived in the USA without documentation for the past 11 years, we wondered what was going to happen to most of our family. Would they be able to apply for the executive action? What about our friends? The answers were not what we needed or wanted to hear. Only one member of our family, whose son is a US citizen, will qualify for this executive action. Others, such as an uncle who has lived in this country, paid local and federal taxes, worked and invest in the local economy for the past 12 years, would not be able to qualify for the mere reason of not having any children born in the USA. In addition, our friends who are gay or lesbian, who have no children and many of whom never thought of having children, but who have lived in the USA for most of their lives, will not qualify for Obama’s executive action. How can such an action be called “bold”?

Indeed, Obama’s executive action on immigration is weak, timid, and comes with too many risks for the undocumented community. It will be extremely important for undocumented residents to explore what options are best for them. Three years of a temporary work permit, with the possibility of deportation at the end of that time, might not be the wisest movement for many undocumented residents.

There is one thing, however, that has been made clear throughout this process: Obama and his advisors are good politicians. He decided not to push for comprehensive immigration reform before the mid-term elections, thinking that this would give them advantage with the conservative-leaning undecided voters. Somehow, he and the Democrats took for granted the support of minority voters. That, as we have already seen, backfired. By presenting this weak and timid executive action, he hopes to get back the support of the left-leaning voters while at the same time look like a “champion” of the immigrant communities. Of course, the Republican Congress is going to do everything in their power to minimize the effects of this executive order, which will make them look like “the bad guys”, which is exactly what Obama and his party needed to win the next general election. Basically, Obama and the Democrats are using the immigrant community as a weapon in their dirty political game.

Add to this what I have already experienced: the resistance of the – mostly white – liberal voters to acknowledge that Messiah Obama cannot do anything wrong. I have already received messages from friends and acquaintances that ask me to stop criticizing the President’s actions lest the “right” use that as a weapon against all the other positive things that President Obama has accomplished.

But I cannot keep silent. My role in a semi-democratic society like ours is to raise my voice when I see unjust actions that affect those who have no voice within the political structures. The role of any citizen is to keep their government checked lest it lose sight of its responsibility: to look after the wellbeing of all of the people. Just because President Obama has accomplished many great things during his tenure does not mean that I need to stay silent when he does wrong. On the contrary, it is my civil responsibility to call on the government officials who represent me to act according to what is the wellbeing of all my fellow citizens.

Finally, with the reaction I have seen from the – mostly non-immigrant, and mostly white – liberal community, it is my fear that pressure on the Obama administration to proceed with comprehensive immigration reform might wane. It seems to me like the progressive voice has, once again, fall trapped of the “Obama charisma and speech” and is willing to compromise the lives of the other 6+ million undocumented residents who will not qualify for this executive action. If the progressive voice is not heard anymore, neither Democrats nor Republicans will feel the need to move boldly on immigration reform. We have already seen how every progressive voice has been praising Obama for his weak and timid action, calling it “bold” when in reality is not even close to be so. I do not want to be the kind of citizen that serves as a rubberstamp for the political leaders I do support. What I want to be is a responsible citizen who is willing to criticize the wrong actions of any political leader, even if I agree with them in most of the policies that they support.

Mr. President, we need you to take BOLD action on immigration reform. Mr. President, we need you to ACT on immigration reform and not just use our immigrant communities as political weapons. Mr. President, we need you to BE A LEADER and not just a politician. The lives of over 11 million people who live and contribute to this country depend on you.

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Why I Vote

i-votedThere are people in the United States, especially those – usually young, and white, and from middle and upper middle classes – that espouse “anarchist” and “leftist” views, who say that voting is a waste of time. Why should we vote if the candidates all have the same platforms? Candidates all work for the same corporate interests and look only after their own kind. Why bother with voting?

I do not disagree that many, if not most, candidates are just clones one of the other. However, for me it is still important to cast my vote. Why? Because of whom I am.
It is easy to dismiss your right to vote when you are white, or young, or male, or rich, or educated, or healthy… or any combination thereof. It is easy to dismiss the electoral process and complain about politicians and their work while not wanting to be part of the process. I understand the frustration, because I have felt it myself at times. But when you are not part of the majority, your vote is extremely important.

This is why I vote: because I am not white, because I am not straight, because I am not rich, because I am an immigrant, because my first language is not English, because my spouse can’t vote, because I am a feminist, because I am a progressive, because I am a person of faith, because I am not willing to let others dictate what I think is best for me… Voting allows me to reclaim my space in the public square. Voting allows me to stand up and say that I am part of the process even when the majority of those in power do not want to recognize my mere existence. Voting allows me to stand up for what I believe, even when the politicians making the decisions are those I voted for!

No candidate and elected official are going to share all of my values. However, I feel empowered to raise my voice when I vote. I can tell those politicians and elected officials that I have the power that the US Constitution grants me and I will make use of that power. Voting is not the “fix-all” solution. It is not perfect and it is not going to make the government work exactly as it should. But, when you are not part of the majority it is extremely important to show up at the voting booth (or to mail in your ballot!)

I vote because I am not white, because I am not straight, because I am not rich, because I am an immigrant, because my first language is not English, because my spouse can’t vote, because I am a feminist, because I am a progressive, because I am a person of faith, because I am not willing to let others dictate what I think is best for me…

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Seeing God in Abuela

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
Psalm 27.10, KJV

My abuela Palmira left this world on March 30th, 2014. She was the last one of my grandparents to leave us. I had been blessed with three sets of grandparents as my father had two sets of parents, his birth parents, abuelo Quino and abuela Margot, and the couple of welcomed him into their family when he was quite young and working away from his hometown, abuelo Jobito and abuela Ester. My maternal grandfather, abuelo Juanito, left us when I was 8 years old but I still remember him very well. Every Sunday afternoon, when the family gathered at their home, he would sit on his rocking chair and tell us funny stories that would make us laugh for hours. Abuela Palmira would stand next to him and laugh with all of us.

Abuela Palmira   There was something peculiar about my maternal grandparents. They practiced Spiritism, a religion in which every human being is of sacred worth and where spirits guide us to be in communion with the Great Spirit that is sometimes called God. At their home, everyone was welcomed and celebrated. They never rejected anyone. My grandparents believed in serving everyone and in welcoming everyone without distinction. Although I was too young when my grandfather died and thus not even aware of my own sexual orientation, I know that my grandfather would have accepted me and celebrated me. My grandmother, however, had the chance to know who I am as a whole person and she always, without doubt and without excuses, celebrated me for who I am.

When I think about abuela Palmira, the verse that always comes to mind is that of Psalm 27.10: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” When my parents rejected me for being queer, it was abuela who welcomed me. She always supported me and celebrated my life. When I introduced her to my now husband, I was told that she spent months telling everyone who would listen about the wonderful man I had met. Recently, while talking with an aunt, she told me how they found among abuela’s personal items the wedding invitation I had sent her for my marriage. I knew she would not be able to attend my wedding due to health problems, but she had kept that invitation as an important memento. Through these actions, I can say that abuela embodied the Holy One in my life. Thus, when my parents disowned me, God took me up through the love, support and affirmation of my abuela Palmira.

The Sunday before abuela departed this world, my husband and I spent time with her. We had been in Puerto Rico for vacation, and of course I had to go visit abuela. She made us laugh with her witty remarks. This was abuela. She was always making jokes and laughing about things, even when her health wasn’t the best, she always found joy in living. I am not naïve to say that she was perfect, because none of us are. She had her flaws and made mistakes like the rest of us. But her love and support meant the world to me, and it is those values that will stay with me throughout my life. Her love, her support, her laughter that last time I saw her will always be the manifestation of God in my life. I will keep her memory alive as long as I live and I will always share with the world the values that she shared with me.

Abuela Palmira, you are now gone from us, as you would have said, you are now “unfleshed”, but your spirit will continue to guide me just as the spirit of abuelo Juanito has never left me. Gracias por todo, abuelita.

 

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Who Am I to Judge Papa Paco*? A Response to the Media Hoopla on What the Pope DIDN’T Say About LGBT Rights

It is public knowledge that the media tries to catch our eye with interesting – and often times, misleading – headlines. Such was the recent hoopla about Pope Francis’ interview in which he mentioned the word “gay.” I wish I didn’t have to burst anyone’s bubble, and I really wished Papa Paco had said something really, well, significant, regarding LGBT rights; but the truth is that he didn’t say absolutely anything important.

IMAGEN-12955092-2Let us start in the beginning. Papa Paco has already surprised the world with his humility, his openness, and his matter-of-factly attitude. The media world was caught off guard by a Pope that is as open as Francis. In comparison with Blessed John Paul II who was charismatic but reserved, or with Benedict XVI who was as secretive as any Pope in the Middle Ages, Francis’ attitude is something completely new.  Moreover, we do not expect the representative of an organization as secretive as the Roman Catholic Church to be as open with his remarks as Francis has been. Add to this the fact that the US-centric media, with centuries of lay-led Protestantism in this country, has no clue how the Roman Catholic Church operates, nor does it understand the matters of Roman Catholic doctrine, dogma, traditions, etcetera.

When Pope Francis met with the media on the papal aircraft, he was showing his openness. This is still shocking, of course. However, by now we should start getting acquainted with the ways of the new Pope. Therefore, my first call to the US-centric media is: stop exaggerating! Second, please research before you print! Really. A really close examination of the interview and a google search regarding the Catholic Church’s position on LGBT issues should be enough to understand that what Papa Paco said is completely in line with Catholic moral doctrine. He has changed nothing!

To the LGBT advocate groups in the USA and around the world, I ask that, please, for the love of all the souls we have lost to religious intolerance, DO NOT play the game! You are actually doing more harm than good!

This brings me to my second point on this response; namely, that the media totally missed the Pope’s words. If you read any transcript of the interview carefully, you will notice that the Pope, more than once, tells the reporters that the “hot issues” they want him to address have already been addressed by the Catechism of the Church. One by one, he addresses the issues of women ordination (“The Church has already spoken”), abortion and same-sex marriage (“[I ] hold the position of the Church, I am a son of the Church”), divorced people taking the Eucharist (“Regarding the matter of people in second marriages – because divorced people can take Communion – I believe that this is something to look at from the whole perspective of pastoral care for marriages.”), and finally, homosexuality (“The Catechism of the Church explains it beautifully.”)

Given that the Pope wants us to read what the Catechism says about these issues, let us take just a quick look at the one that made headlines: homosexuality.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, second edition, Part Three, Section II, Chapter 2, Article 6.II.2357 reads: “Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” On Article 6.II.2359 it reads: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

What does this mean? First, that according to Catholic moral teachings, homosexuality is and will always be a form of “depravity.” Second, that there are no scientifically proven origins for homosexual orientation. Third, that the fact that there are no scientifically proven origins does not take away from moral teachings regarding homosexual orientation since the Church is “Mother and Teacher” in these regards. Fourth, that the Church recognizes this “depraved disorder” as a cross to bear for the Catholic gay man and lesbian woman. Fifth, that the only life that a homosexual Roman Catholic can aspire to is the life of chastity (and yes, that means life with no sex! Ever!)

This is what Francis believes regarding homosexuality. Moreover, he also exposes that the Church is called to act with care and compassion. Again I quote the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, Part Three, Section I, Chapter 1. Article 7.II.1822: “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” Charity is the theological virtue, according to Roman Catholic dogma, which calls us to love God and to love neighbor as ourselves. Those who love God and love neighbor as themselves will not judge. Living by this virtue applies even to the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ. Thus, when Papa Paco said “Who am I to judge?” he is just reciting the Catechism and even the Bible!

Later on the same part of the Catechism, Article 7.II.1829 we read: “The fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.” Note here that one of the things that charity demands is… FRATERNAL CORRECTION! With that, what Papa Paco actually told the reporters is that, because he loves and cares for the gay and lesbian person, he is called, compelled, mandated even, by Christ and by the teachings of the Church to CORRECT our ways. Doesn’t sound that progressive now, does it?

Perhaps is because I have spent too much time studying Roman Catholicism as a Protestant. Perhaps is because I just can’t believe that the media was so dumb as to be duped by the Pope. Perhaps is because I love being non-celibate, happily married gay man… but I just can’t take the whole hoopla regarding this interview to Papa Paco anymore. But really, who am I to judge Papa Paco? The guy knows what he’s doing and how to play the media! Go Paco!

———

* Note: In Spanish, people with the name “Francisco” are called “Paco.” Since both the Bishop of Rome and I are Latinos, I feel like I can call him by his nickname. Hopefully, this will not make headlines tomorrow! (I can see the media frenzy… “Heretic Latino Protestant Minister Does Not Respect The Bishop of Rome!” Or something like that!)

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