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Local ministry for same-sex attraction seeks its voice

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New Vancouver Courage coordinator speaks on the dignity from faith

By Jean Ko Din
Photo caption: Deacon Hilmar Pabel is the new Vancouver coordinator of Courage.
Pastoral ministry for LGBTQ youth isn’t something young people often hear about, says the new Vancouver coordinator of Courage, but next year’s world synod gathering on youth is an opportunity to bring this hidden ministry of the Church to light.
“(Young people) don’t hear the Church talking to them about this,” said Deacon Hilmar Pabel. “They might not have a clue or think the Church doesn’t care.”
As the Church prepares for consultations in advance of the 2018 synod of bishops on young people, identity must be the starting point for discussing pastoral care for youth with same-sex atttraction, Deacon Pabel said.
“One very important thing that the synod can do in terms of pastoral ministry is acknowledge that there are Catholics who are like this. They don’t have a disease. This is not some sort of pathology. That they are our beloved brothers and sisters. They have gifts to bring to the Church.”
In a world where gay youth often define themselves by their sexual orientation, the Church proclaims that as Christians we are not defined by our sexual orientation but by being God’s children, said Deacon Pabel.
“Often when I preach about this, I say that is who we really are. More than being straight or gay, we are God’s children,” who have “the dignity of any other child of God, and therefore there needs to be pastoral ministry to them.”
Deacon Pabel has been coordinator of Vancouver’s Courage ministry since last fall. The international Catholic lay apostolate provides a spiritual support system for men and women with same-sex attractions and has Canadian chapters in cities such as Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Ottawa.
Father Kevin Belgrave, chaplain of Courage in the Archdiocese of Toronto, said the ministry has three dimensions of support: building fellowship among its members, providing spiritual care through the sacraments, and facilitating weekly group meetings where members can share their spiritual life with others.
“It’s not like the Church is this club for the perfect that just lays burden on people ... The Church is a refuge for sinners,” said Father Belgrave. “That’s what people have a right to receive from Christians – the love of Jesus Christ, a community of people striving for redemption, and the fullest vision of the person and the means to live it.”
Young people questioning their sexual orientation face many obstacles in Canada. A 2007 study by the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre said 33 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth have attempted suicide, compared with 7 per cent of youth overall.
Almost half of LGBTQ youth surveyed in a 2011 research study by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust do not feel like they belong in their school environment, compared to only 3.5 per cent of their heterosexual counterparts.
A 2013 Toronto study found that one in five of Toronto’s homeless youth are LGBTQ.
Despite these numbers, Deacon Pabel and Father Belgrave said they rarely encounter a young person seeking support from Courage, and many of their members are 40 and older.
“Demographic is not an overriding concern,” said Deacon Pabel. “If there is someone who is 60 or someone who is 25, both who wish to receive spiritual care from the Church, I’m there for them.”
As a ministry, Courage focuses on adults experiencing same-sex attraction. Ministry to those under 18 is a special ministry in itself, Deacon Pabel said.
Father Belgrave said the best way to support younger persons is to equip the people who are closest to them – their family, friends, educators and pastors. “Because it is important to meet anyone who is expressing any question or concern, it’s important that the people who are closest to that person feel best ready to respond to them.”
He recommends resources on the Courage International website, including a documentary on gender identity called Everlasting Hills, which features Courage members. The film’s website is
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