In just a few short days six brave pilgrims will be headed to Rio, Brazil to spread the message that we are all Equally Blessed! It is with great pleasure that we introduce you to some of these fabulous pilgrims!
I feel called to this pilgrimage because too many catholics do not see themselves in the Church. In the absence of voices praising the contributions of LGBT Catholics and affirming their dignity, people assume that the silence is equivalent to absence, or worse, condemnation. Without role models, they do not see a place for themselves in the fabric of the church. I want our voices to fill that absence, inspiring others to claim their place in the Church as we have. At World Youth Day, young adults celebrate their catholic identity and connection to the worldwide church. As queer and allied Catholics, we too celebrate our Catholic identity and our important role in the worldwide Church.
In addition to witnessing, our mission is pastoral. I know that some WYD pilgrims are surprised at the unwelcoming messages they hear, especially if they themselves may be questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. 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.
I feel called because of my own experience stumbling upon LGBTQ Catholics, which is where I learned that queer and Catholic aren’t mutually exclusive. I was a Jesuit Volunteer in 2008-2009, and planned on spending the year learning about other faiths which might welcome me, as I had not had that experience in the Catholic church (in which I was raised) or in the Bahai faith (which I was involved with for several years in college). I attended several denominations, met many welcoming people, but nothing compared to the curiosity and joy I felt when I was told about a retreat for gay Catholics. I attended the retreat and met many wonderful people who have been brave enough not to let go of something they loved simply because someone told them they should. That was my discovery not just of queer Catholics, but progressives within the church. If I can be a part of helping any youth’s life who realized s/he does not need to give up a faith which s/he loves because of sexuality, I would relish that opportunity.
I feel called because I am a Catholic, an ally, and a human being. As a Catholic, I want to make a life-changing pilgrimage that embraces true equality and justice. As an ally, I want to witness against teachings that exclude so many and demean us all. As a human being, I want to honor our interconnectedness and participate in a more loving and complete vision of church.
My desire to become part of this pilgrimage stems from wanting to work with others in creating spaces where queer folk are celebrated as whole persons in both the church and in society. 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. Having been raised in a conservative Catholic home, I understand the fears of considering progressive ideas of faith, sexuality, and God—while also knowing first hand the hope-filled reality that transformation is possible within oneself, one’s family, and one’s community. As a trans Latino Catholic I want to ensure that our church fully live a gospel that embraces and celebrates people from brokenness into wholeness.
The theme of WYD this year is “Go and make disciples of all nations” from the Gospel of Matthew. This theme indicates that it is the responsibility of the Church to welcome all people. In all honestly, I feel that the Catholic Church has done a poor job of welcoming those from the LGBTQ community. I constantly see media clips or news articles that shun people, and this must come to an end. I would like to be a witness for the LGBTQ community because 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 my own faith who has taught me these very values. I am not afraid to stand up against injustice, and I want to work with others who are willing to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. As a bisexual Black Catholic, I feel as if the Church has taught me that I am not quite right, well I know who I am, and I know that I am loved by God, and no human institution can tell me otherwise.
I feel a very personal call to witness for LGBTQ Catholics at WYD. As I mentioned before, while I never attended WYD, I was very involved in catholic youth culture when I was in high school. I attended Catholic high school, and was also a part of a youth group. Two summers I attended “Steubenville Youth Conferences” which involved thousands of young Catholics worshiping and learning in a giant tent all day and camping out in similar giant tents at night. It was an environment that had elements that I suspect will be similar to environments I encounter at world youth day. Throughout college, as my faith evolved, I looked back on my youth group life and would roll my eyes at myself, or just feel outraged at some of the things I was taught and accepted. However in recent years I’ve come to realize that I can’t look back on the period of my life strictly through such a negative lens because it was also a period of my life where I felt deeply spiritual and connected to God, possibly the most connected to God I’ve ever felt.
The empathy that I’ve developed for my former self in that environment is part of what propels me towards WYD 2013. While sometimes I want to look with such contempt at the Catholic youth culture within the Catholic hierarchy, I can also recognize that those youth are filled with such love, innocence and good intentions, just as I was when I was 16. To me, it is so important that we be present to the youth that may not fully understand and support us, but who make note of us and continue to think critically about the stance of the church on LGBTQ people as their faith develops. I will be thrilled if there are youth who support our message while we are there, and it will certainly be difficult to encounter people that I feel sure will never change, but I feel most called by those youth that I know will tuck away out message in some corner of their brain, and continue to reflect on it.
Profiles of the pilgrims courtesy of the Call To Action 20/30 Blog.