Margie Winters never expected to get invited to Wednesday's papal reception at the White House.
Winters, 50, became a polarizing figure among Philadelphia Catholics in June after she was fired from her job of eight years as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy in the area's tony Main Line neighborhood. Parents had complained to the principal that Winters is gay and married.
On Tuesday, Winters and her wife, Andrea Vettori, were invited to the White House reception welcoming the pontiff to the United States.
"We're going to represent so many others," Winters said before speaking at a panel about religion and sexuality in downtown Philadelphia, then driving to Washington. "The only way people like me will be protected is if church teaching changes."
The pair met in training as Sisters of Mercy, but left the religious community in 2001. Winters is a fan of Pope Francis, and looks forward to seeing both of his weekend Masses in Philadelphia after they return from Washington.
"He has a very open heart and open mind. He's someone who is engaged with people and how they impact him, how God speaks through him," she said.
The White House reception included about 11,000 guests.
"We don't have any illusion of face time with the pope," said Vettori, 50.
If Winters could talk to Francis, she said, her message would be clear: "Look at us, who we are, at our faith, and put that in dialogue with church teaching."
Vettori said they were especially grateful to the president for including them and other gay and lesbian Catholics. "What he's doing is very symbolic," Vettori said. "The fact that he has invited so many of us is really remarkable and a real testimony to who he is."
She hopes that serves as an example to those gathered at the World Meeting of Families this week in Philadelphia.
"We would ask to share our story, share our lives and challenge them: Where in the Gospel does it say we should not be included in this church?" she said.
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