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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Catholic chapel honors LGBT community

Published: October 16, 2014
Section: Featured, News

A large gay pride flag has been on display outside of Bethlehem Chapel, the home for Catholics on campus, since the beginning of the month. This honoring of LGBT History Month has been joined by the addition of a pink cloth over the altar, inside the chapel, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was the idea of a few students on campus to show reverence to these two important causes. Father Walter Cuenin was happy to put up the displays, so that Brandeis students can see the connection between faith and the university’s mission of social justice.

LGBT History Month has been celebrated in the U.S. during October since 1994, when Missouri history teacher Rodney Wilson organized it. It coincides with National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11 of each year. Breast Cancer Awareness Month was founded in 1985 by the American Cancer Society, and has been celebrated in October ever since.

In an interview with The Hoot, Father Cuenin explained that the decision to hang these decorations went behind acknowledging both of the widely celebrated months. He stated that it is indeed something not many priests would agree to (honoring LGBT History and Breast Cancer Awareness Month). His main goal in this venture is for students to see the connection between living a faithful life and the overall vision of promoting social justice. He equates this to the vision of Jesus Christ for the world.

For his parishioners and other Catholic students, Father Cuenin hopes that they will leave the chapel inspired to bring God’s love to the world. “No point to come here and pray if you aren’t actually going to do something in the world,” he said. He hopes that with these displays, students will be reminded to do just that. “We have to bring our life to the world,” he added.

Father Cuenin does acknowledge the controversy within the church about accepting LGBT believers. He referred to Isaiah 1:17, which calls to take care of widows and orphans, to explain his and the Catholic chapel’s open arms. In fact, Father Cuenin has always displayed a rainbow peace flag inside the chapel, as a statement that the chapel is friendly to people of all sexualities. That will continue to be the case when the pride flag outside is taken down at the end of the month. Cuenin also commented that he takes his role as a confidential resource on campus very seriously, and hopes that more students will feel welcome to talk with him as a result of these displays.

There has not been any outcry or backlash presented to Father Cuenin over these displays, he mentioned. In fact, he has actually received a lot of positive support from both his parishioners and the larger Brandeis community for honoring these two population groups. Cuenin does recognize, however, that most of his parishioners that are not students and come from off-campus to attend mass are already looking for a more contemporary service. Thus, they wouldn’t necessarily mind these displays to begin with, and have turned out to be very accepting of it.

With the new regime of Pope Francis in the Vatican, Cuenin mentioned that there has been a whole new spirit and opinion brought to the Catholic Church. In response to a question about homosexuals and the church, Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge?” Father Cuenin then stated that the new pope is helping the entire church become more aware and progressive, and he wants to help with that.

Father Cuenin strives to expand connections to all kinds of students on campus, whether they be Catholic, pagan or homosexual. He views this as a better way to show God’s love than simply heading to mass to pray. The specific symbols of the gay pride flag and the pink cloth help students know the spirit of social justice is important at the Catholic chapel as well.