Tuesday evening, April 11, 2023, Easter joy permeated the air and cyberspace as the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill hosted a hybrid presentation by Father James Martin, SJ.
Fr. Martin was broadcasting from home, a community was gathered at Dominican Convent in Sparkill, and many participated in the program from the comfort of their homes. Fr. Martin embodied his message of Building Bridges and creating relationships of respect, sensitivity, and compassion with those who are ‘other.’ He was fully present and connected to the audience and many remarked that it felt as if he was speaking directly to each person.
Part of Jesuit formation is “walking with the excluded.” Fr. Martin shared how he first worked with marginalized people when he became a Jesuit which included caring for poor and sick people in Massachusetts, working with Mother Theresa’s Sisters in Kingston, Jamaica, inner city schools, homeless shelters, street gang members in Chicago, and refugees in Nairobi, Kenya. Looking back, Fr. Martin said that he was particularly formed by his experiences in Nairobi. He said, “These were wonderful opportunities to spread God’s love and meet people who were already in touch by God.” Working with refugees who were persecuted created a heighted sensitivity in him towards those pushed out and looked down on.
After being ordained to the priesthood, Fr. Martin began a successful career in communications. He was appointed Editor for America Magazine and has written or edited more than a dozen books on religious and spiritual topics. He has been a frequent commentator for CNN, NPR, Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, and other news outlets and has written several op-ed pieces and blogged for The New York Times.
Fr. Martin shared that as his ministry unfolded, the desire to walk with those who were excluded continued and found expression in his chaplaincy work with incarcerated people. However, it was in 2016, after the Pulse Night Club massacre in Orlando, Florida, that Fr. Martin especially focused on the plight of the LGBTQ community. He was surprised by the lack of response from US Bishops considering this mass murder. Fr. Martin stated, “It dawned on me that even in death this community was invisible to the church.”
And so, his journey of compassionate advocacy in Jesus’ name began with a Facebook post that went viral, which led to collaborations with New Ways Ministry and affirmation from Pope Francis who appointed him as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications. In 2018, Fr. Martin published, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. Despite the limitations of the pandemic, his ministry continues to expand and those at Dominican Convent in Sparkill, NY and online were grateful for the opportunity to pray, study, and share Scriptures about Jesus reaching out to others.