During the trip, our group balanced a dual outside/insider identity. We were outsiders in that we were preaching a gospel contrary to official church teaching, but in almost every other way, we were just like the other pilgrims. We wore the same T-shirts, hats and backpacks, we sang the same songs and said the same prayers at Masses. We got bored with same catechesis speakers, stood in the same lines to get food at crowed events and freaked out every time a motorcade went by thinking it might be the pope, just like everyone else.
Having this insider identity was essential to being able to have the kind of conversations that we had. We were approachable because we were acting within a familiar context and speaking the same lingo. We could ask and answer all world youth day small talk questions (Where are you from? When did you get here? How many people are in your group?) in order to break the ice before getting into a conversation about LGBT issues. It also helped reinforce our message that you could be both Catholic and LGBT or an LGBT ally because, lo-and-behold, there we were in our crosses giving out free rainbow rosaries and pins.
After being home for three weeks now, what I am just starting to unpack is the effect of being an “insider” on my view of the church. In the past few years, I’ve become more and more comfortable in my outsider role in the Catholic Church. I have found my community on the margins of the church. The margins are a beautiful place to be, but during World Youth Day, I remembered that there is also a lot of beauty in the core of our church. It was inspiring to meet so many young people from all over the world who were so excited to be involved in such a global event: we spoke with one group of young people from Chile who had spent five days on a bus to get to world youth day! One of my most powerful moments was walking up to receive communion during one of the masses with English speaker from all over the world. As the music played and young people were bent over in prayer, wrapped in their country’s flags, I got emotional because I realized that what I truly desired was for all young people, gay or straight, to be able to have this experience if they wanted to. I have found a home on the margins, but what I want more than anything is for LGBTQ youth to be able to be fully themselves right there in the core of the church.
I know that I will always be both and insider and an outsider within the Church. Navigating where I fall along that spectrum is complicated and personal. I would never try to tell someone where they should fall, but for me, spending a week closer to the “inside” was an eye opening experience and one that I plan to keep reflecting on over the next few months.