'Parish of social justice': Oakland's St. Columba says 'love is love,' vocally supports to LGBTQ community

Sometimes considered to be a pariah with unapologetic hot-takes, St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland is no stranger to controversy. They call themselves a "parish of social justice," and have always gone against the status quo, taking bold positions on racism, and, as seen throughout the month of June, sexuality and gender.

The church is unique among Catholic parishes for its focus on African-American spirituality. But that's not all that sets it apart from more traditional churches.

The crosses in their yard don't signify abortions but local victims of gun violence.  A large banner hangs to show their undying support for the Black Lives Matter movement. And every June, a Pride flag hangs from their walls.

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Crosses outside St. Columba Catholic Church Oakland

"We’re saying to them, ‘We’re here, we’re a part of you, we’re a part of God’s children, we deserved to be loved as everyone else," said Rev. Aidan McAleenan. 

Since the first Pride barbeque in 2018, St. Columba has held an annual event welcoming the local LGBTQ community to break bread with the congregation. 

A parish made up mostly of African Americans from the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers, they want everyone – from fellow Catholics to queer folk – to know they actively and outwardly support the LGBTQ community.

St. Columba Catholic Church parishioners

Oakland resident Juan Zamora, who is gay and originally from Mexico, has been attending St. Columba since its first Pride barbecue. Zamora also sits on the board of Oakland Pride.

"As a Catholic, and as a Latino person, having a church like St. Columba means a lot to me," Zamora said. "It makes me feel good that there are other churches in the Bay Area that are catholic and have their LGBTQ ministry and have LGBTQ members and have talked about how open they are and welcoming they are to everybody."

When asked if he has received negative comments from fellow Christians, McAleenan only had one answer: no.

"A lot of Catholics come on up and go like ‘Does the bishop know you’re here? Does the pope know you’re here? Is this okay?'", said McAleenan, who described being influenced by his work confronting the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. "You get these responses that people are like ‘There really are faith communities that would love us and embrace us’ and out of that we’ve got people who come to church and just stay.

Juan Zamora with Oakland Pride inside St. Columba Catholic Church where he also attends.

For some, it's a relief to find a refuge where religious tradition is not in conflict with sexual identity.

"When I realized that I was gay back in 2006, I stopped, you know, approaching the church I have questioned in the past my relationship with God because me being gay and a church not accepting who I am," he said. "Coming to church and realizing that everything is all about a man and a woman…the first few years, I did question…maybe this is not who I am [a gay man], and maybe I could change.'"

But Zamora didn’t need to change, maybe because society is doing the changing for us, according to McAleenan.

"In the Bay Area, there’s been an evolution, a strong evolution of acceptance, of love, of inclusion, and I think out of that experience, it’s become a norm, and therefore I think there’s an invitation, for us as a church to look at the sexual teaching of the church and update it in the light of God living in his people," McAleenan said.


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O. Gloria Okorie is a digital reporter for KTVU. Email O. Gloria at o.gloria.okorie@fox.com or call her at 510-874-0175. Follow her on Twitter @ogloriaokorie.