World Youth Day, the gathering of young Catholics with Pope Francis in Brazil this past week, has garnered many headlines for the pope’s charisma. LGBT issues have not been mentioned, other than to say that the pope was greeted by protesters who staged a “kiss-in” when he arrived in Rio de Janiero.
But the real LGBT story at World Youth Day (WYD)has not made it to the major media outlets. Six young LGBT U.S. Catholics have journeyed to the gathering as pilgrims, sponsored by Equally Blessed, the coalition of Catholic organizations which work on LGBT equality issues. (The four members of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.)
The six pilgrims–Delfin Bautista, Lauren Carpenter, Ellen Euclide, Megan Graves, Jennifer Guterman, Sara Kelley–have been attending the WYD events with other pilgrims, and have been striking up conversations with them to raise awareness of LGBT equality issues. According to an Equally Blessed press release, Kelley had this to say about the project:
“I’m going to World Youth Day to help start a different conversation about LGBT people in the church, and to offer a different view than the hierarchy’s on how LGBT people can be included. I hope simply to talk to people and to ask questions of the Church’s current teaching.”
The press release also noted:
“In addition to participating in World Youth Day events, the pilgrims hope to meet representatives of other LGBT Catholic groups and possibly participate in a pubic vigil on behalf of LGBT people.”
You can read the entire press release here.
“When we think of activists often time the images that come to mind are of a person with a bullhorn leading a chant or a passionate orator giving a speech to set people’s hearts ablaze or the community organizer who brings together all of the logistics for a public education campaign.
“At World Youth Day we’ve encountered many who embody this spirit—people gathering to sing, dance, and exchange stories (through gestures, facial expressions, and other forms of communication when spoken languages differed). Many reflected physically the joy of being here and of sharing their experience of faith and pride in their countries in very energetic ways. As I stood in line to finish the process of registering our group, participated in Mass, and during our catechesis sessions where everyone focused on the Bishop speaking, I realized that as introverts we have been invited to step up to the challenge of going beyond our comfort zone to go up to other WYD participants to hand out rainbow rosaries, EB prayer cards, and get to know where people are coming from. We have been interviewed by the BBC and approached by pilgrims from all over the world who are interested, intrigued, and happy that there is some form of visible lgbt and queer presence at WYD. “
“As we continued to pass out and share many of our rainbow trinkets and gifts, many people we delighted to have them, especially the rainbow rosaries! Many of the Central and South American youth that we met we very positive about our outreach, we even had one young woman who spoke only Portuguese translate for us several times. Also, for me personally, it was wonderful to engage in brief dialogue with those who spoke Spanish, because I wanted to try my best to explain our ministry.”
“The atmosphere was one of celebrating multiple identities and connecting across cultures. We all struggled to overcome language barriers and smiled for pictures with people we had just met. People were proud of their national identity and sang football chants and church songs, but the excitement came from the feeling of connection, that we have all been brought together by our diverse experiences of the same faith.
“In that atmosphere our identity as LGBT Catholics received a warm welcome. Lucky for us “LGBT” and “gay” translate directly in both Spanish and Portuguese so many people deciphered our banner and our schpeil and we were greeted with smiles, hugs and even cheers. Even those who disagreed simply said “hm, well I think differently” and walked away, letting us continue without further discussion. I had several conversation with Spanish speakers who were very surprised to see us. Some were cautious, asking if we were associated with a parish, if we were celibate or if we took communion and made sure to ask if the ribbon would identify them as “one of us.” The majority though were very positive. One man asked how he could help and took a stack of our prayer cards to hand out, a young Bolivian asked for my email address because he’s wants to work in LGBT rights in his country and said he thinks most LGBT Bolivians go to church but keep their identity a secret and several Spanish speaking Brazilians helped us translate our message and stayed around to explain our banner to other Portuguese speakers.”
Godspeed to our young pilgrims and witnesses for Catholic LGBT equality!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry