By José Sanchez and Fannie Dionne
Beneath the soaring dome of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Toronto, a group has been quietly pioneering a path of compassion and understanding for over a decade. Drawing inspiration from the time-tested teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, their mission incorporates many of the values of Ignatian accompaniment. Fundamentally, they aim to offer spiritual support to LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies while nurturing a more inclusive and compassionate Church.
At the heart of Ignatian accompaniment lies the art of deep listening, discernment and reverence for each person’s unique identity and inherent dignity. It acknowledges that every journey is unique and offers spiritual and emotional support to individuals as they navigate life’s challenges. This approach has inspired Jesuit and Ignatian apostolates across Canada to create spaces where LGBTQ+ individuals feel valued, supported and empowered.
The Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal exemplifies this ethos of inclusivity. Mark Langlois, Director of Spiritual Care, says that the centre has become a refuge for LGBTQ+ individuals seeking spiritual solace. Langlois maintains that “there is a spirituality of marginality to be lived,” and the centre’s retreats and programs embody this philosophy.
At the heart of Ignatian accompaniment lies the art of deep listening, discernment and reverence for each person’s unique identity and inherent dignity.
Likewise, All Inclusive Ministries at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish has committed itself to supporting LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies. John Jacob, a psychotherapist and member of the group, sees the Church’s relationship with marginalized individuals as crucial: “The Church needs to be in a relationship with its congregation because without us, the Church ceases to exist.”
The Ignatian Spirituality Centre provides a diverse range of programs for LGBTQ+ individuals, including silent retreats, group retreats, and spiritual accompaniment. All Inclusive Ministries hosts a monthly Mass, fosters community connections, and organizes retreats and various activities. Both groups are grounded in Ignatian principles such as deep listening and discernment, creating spaces where LGBTQ+ Catholics can explore their spirituality, connect with others, and strengthen their relationship with God. They ultimately promote a heightened understanding and unwavering support for the dignity of all individuals.
Journeying with marginalized individuals can lead to transformative experiences, not only for the individual but also for the Church. As Langlois observes, “the LGBTQ+ challenge has a colour of its own, but it’s a colour: The challenge is the same for all those who have been marginalized, and it takes on a different colour each time.” By fostering a spirit of inclusivity, the Church can become a true reflection of God’s diverse creation.
The Ignatian accompaniment model and its values can orient the Catholic Church in hope-filled ways as it strives to welcome marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ individuals. Jesuit and Ignatian apostolates in Canada—with their emphasis on journeying alongside individuals, respecting their individuality, and providing tailored support—demonstrate that it is possible to create inclusive spaces where all individuals feel valued, supported, and empowered.
Echoing this spirit of inclusion, Pope Francis has said, “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God.” As we look to the example set by Jesuit and Ignatian apostolates in Canada, we discover one model for how the Church worldwide can learn to embrace and welcome all individuals into the fold.
As Langlois observes, “the LGBTQ+ challenge has a colour of its own, but it’s a colour: The challenge is the same for all those who have been marginalized, and it takes on a different colour each time.”
LGBT individuals often cite discrimination based on religious grounds as the primary reason for their mental health problems, according to a 2017 survey by the Trevor Project.
A 2017 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that approximately only 40% of Catholics believe that their church is accepting of LGBTQ individuals.
Nicola Di Narzo, writer, former diocesan priest
Nicola struggled with accepting his homosexuality due to his conservative Catholic upbringing. He had low self-esteem and faced a breaking point in 2016 when he nearly took his life. “I was in a car … I looked at the wall from a distance, and then I said to myself: ‘End your life; it will be so much easier. You’ll never be able to be yourself. You won’t be loved. You’ll be rejected. You’ll live a life of hell.’” The Jesuits, particularly Fr. Jean-Guy Saint-Arnaud, helped him discover a personal God who communicates through imagination, conscience, and everyday events. He recalled, “God comes to meet our deepest being … What I understood in my heart was the Lord telling me: ‘Nicola, you don’t allow yourself to be happy.’ It upset me because I told myself deep down that I have the right to be happy.”
Mark Langlois, Director of Spiritual Care at the Centre for Ignatian Spirituality in Montreal
Mark, who left the Church due to his struggle with reconciling his gay identity with the Church’s teaching, shares his journey back to Catholicism. “I left the Church because I couldn’t reconcile who I was as a gay person with what I was hearing and seeing. It was scandalous to me. If I wanted to be part of the Church, I had to ignore who I was,” he recalls. He found an extraordinary pastor who gently guided him to return, and he eventually discovered warmth and welcome at the Villa Saint-Martin. Through Ignatian spirituality and spiritual accompaniment with a Jesuit, he experienced non-judgment, inner welcome, and support in his reality. He states, “Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality of welcome, of journey, of pilgrimage. I felt that I did not have to conform. There was a freedom and a security that is truly Christocentric. I found the oasis again.”
John Jacob, Psychotherapist, Member of All Inclusive Ministries
In his early twenties, John faced a struggle reconciling his faith and sexual orientation as a queer man. He felt he had to choose between embracing his desires or rejecting his faith. This internal conflict led him to a dark, lonely place, affecting his self-worth and connection to God. He feared disappointing himself, his family, and God. However, Ignatian spiritual accompaniment helped him understand that he wasn’t broken, and he learned to embrace all aspects of himself. John shares, “With spiritual accompaniment, I was able to reach a place where I loved all aspects of me … and I began to explore and discern my gifts.” As a queer person of color, he now strives to contribute to the wider community through his work, acknowledging the value of his unique experiences in a Western colonial context. Ignatian accompaniment played a vital role in helping him heal, integrate and grow.
Gordon Davies, – Director, Arts & Science; Languages & Translation at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies
Gordon has noticed a growing acceptance among other parishioners towards the LGBTQ+ community. “I’m an active parishioner of a Jesuit parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, which is in downtown Toronto, including the All Inclusive Ministry group for LGBTQ+ people. And I also sing in a choir … Little by little, I think, the other parishioners are beginning to recognise that we are Catholics like everyone else, that we are not strange people.” Davies himself has experienced a transformation in his prayer life since coming out and accepting himself. “People are changing, and I’m changing too. My prayer life is quite different now that I am openly gay in society … But as I reflect on myself, I recognise that when I was in the closet, I was of course hiding from society, but without knowing, I was hiding from God. I have deepened my prayer life immeasurably since I accepted myself.”