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Catholic LGBT activists urge inclusiveness as Vatican meetings end

"God is not afraid of new things," Pope Francis said, chastising the church's continued rejection of gays.

About 30 Catholics shivered in the chilly Sunday afternoon air as they prayed the rosary on the sidewalk in front of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The group — a collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender supporters organized by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Call to Action — urged their church to become more inclusive to homosexuals the same day bishops and cardinals concluded two weeks of meetings at the Vatican to discuss family issues.

The assembly in Rome revealed deep divisions among church leaders on how to respond to homosexuality and divorce, and it ended with the pope chastizing the bishops on a reversal of what would have been a groundbreaking acceptance of gays. "God is not afraid of new things," he said in his Sunday sermon. "That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways."

"Let us build a house where love is found," the Baltimore group sang, an a cappella rendition of Marty Haugen's Gospel hymn, "All Are Welcome." After reciting the rosary in English and Spanish, the group took turns naming people who inspired their faith journeys and LGBT people in their prayers.

Verlina Knight, of Owings Mills, said she joined the prayer vigil "supporting our brothers and sisters who are not being recognized," on behalf of her stepdaughter, who is gay.

"We want to let our priests and archbishop know we are all God's children," said Knight, who attends the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Towson. "We all have the same rights, and we should be treated equally."

"Until then," she said, "we'll continue to fight the fight."

Sheroon Roles, who attends St. Matthews in Loch Raven, said she prays especially for homosexuals whose families and church reject them.

"I believe we're called to love all God's children," Roles said. "I am a Catholic, and I don't think God will exclude anyone from his church." Pointing at the Basilica, she added, "I believe this temple is for all."

Shortly after the prayer service outside ended, Archbishop William Lori presided over a Holy Confirmation Mass, welcoming 26 candidates as adults into the Catholic faith. The Baltimore archbishop has drawn criticism from LGBT groups including the HRC, which named him among the "Best of the Worst: Catholic Bishops Across the Country" for his opposition to gay marriage.

Baltimore Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said in an email that Lori and Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden have met with same-sex marriage proponents and will continue to do so.

"The Church must strive to always be a welcoming home and a source of comfort to all God's people, especially those who have been away from the Church or who have not always found it to be welcoming," Caine said.

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, director of the Human Rights Campaign's Latino and Catholic Initiatives, led the quiet, respectful vigil in "the traditional Catholic way," for two reasons.

"First, it's the language we know," she said. "We're no strangers to faith; we're no strangers to the church."

Indeed, more than one in the group didn't need lyric sheets to sing the hymn, and the group murmered along to every "Hail Mary," their rosaries in hand.

Second, she said, "if you don't speak Catholic, they don't listen to you."

Rivera and the Human Rights Campaign organized similar events in seven U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Philadelphia, over the last two weeks to call attention to the policy meetings going on in Rome.

With the synod coming to a close, Sunday afternoon's vigil on Cathedral Street was the last of the tour, she told the crowd. "But it's the beginning of a much larger movement," she added.

Reuters contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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