As packs of pilgrims wander our streets, we offer up a sampling of our kind of Catholics -- everyday believers who turn their faith to social justice. Here are some of the flock who are on the side of the angels.
If you've seen the Jesus comics, they're hers. If you see youths in angel wings handing out condoms around town this week, she designed those wings. If you pick up a zine featuring a saucy little angel who points out that World Youth Day's organizers refused to sign the city's non-discrimination policy and that the CWYD paraphernalia is being assembled by inmates, that's hers, too.
She's Gabe Thirlwall, the young woman behind the "propaganda" (her word) of Fish on Fridays productions. She's intensely Catholic, queer, works with the activist Tao network and thinks even most Christian social justice types are too white, too middle-class, too liberal and too comfortable.
"The Pope's visit is just a celebration of patriarchy and homophobia," she says, "and a reminder that I don't have status."
But she insists that she still wants to be a Catholic.
"It's my culture and my faith. The Eucharist is still central to my life."
(NOW asks, "That's the blood and wafers, right?" At the casual word "wafers" she makes as if she has been stabbed in the heart.)
"I look at the history of radical movements and their ties to Catholicism -- liberation theology, for example -- and I have hope," she says. "I see signs of change coming from survivors of abuse by clergy groups, from First Nations groups doing reconciliation work and from other autonomous radical communities of resistance that are deciding how they want to worship and how they want to read the gospel."
She's doing a workshop at Challenge The Church (the alternative World Youth Day fest) called Zine-Making And Low Art Jam. But be warned if you go: she might make you build a shrine to the Lady of Guadalupe.
"She's the protector of the Americas," Thirlwall grins, "so I've been making shrines and praying to her to stop the FTAA."
You see them through the window, silk screening T-shirts that say "Jesus Christ: Revolutionary," complete with a picture of Jesus that looks remarkably like Che Guevara.
They look perplexed when you ring the bell. They don't get up. You ring again. Slowly, it dawns on them.
"Sorry," laughs Rob Shearer as he opens the door of Zacchaeus House, one of three radical Catholic Worker households in Parkdale, "nobody knocks. Usually everyone just walks in."
The Catholic Worker movement, in brief, is an international network of communities based on works of mercy, non-violence and "radical hospitality" for the homeless and disenfranchised. Some are connected to the mainstream Catholic Church, while others like the one in Parkdale, which, for example, is hosting OCAP's Pope Squat press conference, are not at all.
"The Church hates us," shrugs Shearer, who's an intensely passionate -- he just oozes it, you can barely stop yourself from tearing up -- "post-denominational, activist, anarchist, evangelical, radically orthodox Christian."
"There is a certain mistrust, and sometimes open hostility, toward Christian activists on the left," he admits, "which is understandable because of Christianity's history of colonialism. I almost have to say we're Catholic anarchists, and that at least throws people for a loop!
"Sometimes it feels like exile from all sides," he grins ruefully, "but the thing I care about most is building bridges -- with evangelical communities, historical black church communities, anarchist communities.... I believe the Good News is what Jesus said: 'I proclaim the good news for the poor and oppressed.'"
A member of Amnesty International and a sometime OPIRG-involved U of T gal, Gwyneth is also involved with a Christian group that does international solidarity work in developing countries. But she has promised not to reveal its name because of its fear that even a loose association with Challenge The Church would get the group's funding yanked by the archdiocese.
"Past popes were much more interested in questions of social justice," she says, "and I was raised to believe that to be Catholic was to be involved in social justice activities. The Catholic Church's recent obsession with sexuality is really John Paul II," she says.
She's also not terribly impressed with the papal visit.
"This is just Popefest 2002," she snaps. "The city is giving away millions of dollars at a time when people are homeless and city programs are being cut. This money could have been put to so much better use here or in developing nations."
"Once you're a Catholic you're always a Catholic one way or another," smiles Kathleen Howes, an organizer with CNWE, the Catholic Network for Women's Equality, and Catholics for Free Choice, an international pro-choice Catholic group.
"I believe very strongly that abortion and birth control are matters of personal conscience. I feel no tension whatsoever between being Catholic and holding these views."
Howes walks women through picket lines at abortion clinics, runs a free legal clinic at the 519, works in legal services for the CAW and is also one of the organizers of Challenge The Church.
"When they run out of Third World men to be priests and then married men, then women will be ordained.
"My biggest fear is that people will just quit and there will be no dissent in the Church. Many Catholics just walk away from their Church, which is exactly what the hierarchy would like us to do."
If Jesus ran with the disenfranchised, then Bernard King is in good company. We're speaking in the cafeteria of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where he works in the publishing department. Various people walk by, flapping their arms, talking out loud or begging cigarettes.
"I think Jesus would like this place," he smiles.
King, the coordinator of the centre's lesbian gay bi transgendered transsexual queer caucus and the co-founder of the National Catholic Students Association, identifies as queer though he's married to a woman and has two young daughters.
"My biggest problem is learning a way to communicate the essence of Catholic sacramental life to two girls who are being raised in a sexist and homophobic society.
"How does one excavate the life-giving essence and spiritual focus that Catholicism gives me? My daughter asked me the other day why only men are priests. I can only say to her that the Church doesn't consider her an equal citizen."