Six pilgrims will bring challenging message to global gathering in Brazil
WASHINGTON, D. C., JULY 18, 2013– Six young Roman Catholics are on their way to the church’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero, bringing a message that the church must treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with respect and advocate for their welfare.
The pilgrims, ages 21 through 32, are sponsored by Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations that have spent more than 120 years working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families.
“I know that some World Youth Day pilgrims are surprised at the unwelcoming messages they hear, especially if they themselves may be questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Ellen Euclide, 27, a community organizer from Chicago, who serves as church justice coordinator for Call To Action, a member of the coalition. “I hope that our presence will be one of love and support to these pilgrims and that we can show them that they are valuable members of the family of the church.”
Sponsored by the Vatican, World Youth Day is held every two to three years, and draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, ages 16-35, to the host city. Although focused primarily on worship and spirituality, the six-day event that begins on July 23, will include teaching sessions sponsored by organizations such as the Knights of Columbus that have opposed any advancement of civil rights for LGBT people.
“I have met so many LGBT young people who has struggled with shame, guilt and confusion because their church tells them they should not love who they love,” says Lauren Carpenter, 27, a social worker and graduate student from Baltimore who is facilitator of the Young Adult Caucus for DignityUSA, another coalition member. “I hope our presence gives hope to any LGBT Catholic youth who are present, and in a small way works at changing the homophobia in the church.”
The pilgrims include Delfin Bautista, 31, director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University; Megan Graves, 21, a student at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill.; Sara Kelley, 26, a customer care specialist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; and Jennifer Guterman, 32, an English teacher from Boston.
“As a social worker and theologian I am passionate about helping others claim and reclaim their voices within religious circles in order to challenge our faith communities to radically embrace inclusivity and justice,” Bautista says.
More than 1.4 million pilgrims participated in the last World Youth Day, held in Madrid in 2011, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The gathering in Brazil could be even larger because it marks the return of Pope Francis to his native South America for the first time since the former Argentinian cardinal was elected pope in March.
“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,” Kelley says. “I hope simply to talk to people and to ask questions of the Church’s current teaching.”
Though the Roman Catholic hierarchy opposes marriage equality and expanded civil rights protections for LGBT people, most Catholics in western countries differ with their leaders. Same-sex marriage is legal in Brazil and in the pope’s native Argentina, both heavily Catholic countries, and a string of polls in the last two years show that Catholics—especially young Catholics—in the United States support LGBT equality by ever widening margins.
“My Catholic faith challenges me to stand up and advocate for those who are turned away and belittled by society, even if I must stand up to the leaders of the faith that has taught me these very values,” Graves says.
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.
“I am going on the pilgrimage to witness for an inclusive church where everyone feels welcome regardless of sexual orientation or gender,” Guterman says. “I’m most looking forward to connecting with people from all over the world in one place.”
Equally Blessed, which produced a detailed report on the Knights of Columbus’ extensive expenditures on anti-equality initiatives, also sponsored two pilgrims’ travel to World Youth Day in 2011.
Equally Blessed is a coalition of faithful Catholics who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both in the church and in civil society. Equally Blessed includes four organizations that have spent a combined 120 years working on behalf of LGBT people and their families: Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.