In March 2018, two well-known female activists were brutally murdered: Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Maria Guadalupe Hernandez in Guanajuato (México). They both shared a strong commitment with to the dispossessed and a lesbian sexual orientation, as the two women were lesbian. In this article we want to delve into the testimony Marielle gave us with her life.
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Latin America, July 2018. After the violent death of Marielle Franco (Brazil, 1979 – 2018), her family received a significant phone call from the Vatican. The Pope himself expressed his condolences recalling Marielle´s effort and commitment for the most in need.
There is a history behind this call, as it was the fruit of a letter sent to the Pope by Marielle´s daughter in March 19, 2018. In this letter, she described her mother’s life and portrayed her as an example of a Catholic woman.
“I learned my faith and being a Catholic from my mother. Her devotion for Our Lady, her faith and her commitment with Christ´s mission, will always guide our lives. She taught me about the martyrs and about never denying the Gospel. She always reminded me that God´s major commandment is love.
This is a moment of grieve, a sword that cuts our souls. I ask you to pray for us, for our families, for the women, for the black community, for life in Rio de Janeiro´s favelas, for our city and country.
There is too many speech of hate and what we need is love.
(Luyara Santos, March 19th, 2018)
As Luyara explained, Marielle was a Catholic woman, in her youth she was a catechist in her parish – Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes – and she was also committed in transmitting the faith to her family.
The Social Stigma in Latin America
Appreciating Pope Francis’ gesture after facing the heartfelt claim of Marielle´s daughter, there are a few facts that are important highlight: Marielle was a woman, an afro descendant, a lesbian and she worked in favor of the poor that live in the favelas, where she also came from. In this context, Marielle was a person that lived and contributed from a place the Church nowadays refers to as The Frontier. For those who are not familiar with the traditional context of Latin American societies, we frequently witness the double, triple or even quadruple discrimination suffered by those who bear any of the characteristics Marielle united: she was a woman (gender), afro/native descendent origin (etnic), LGBTI (sexual orientation) or poor (economic).
This is the reason why Marielle´s activism is remarkable; during her life she embraced the Gospel’s commitment with justice, love and solidarity. Although for her it would have been easy to speak against the Church by blaming it as many others do – from a perspective that the Church forms part of an ideological machinery that justifies and persuades exclusion – she preferred to show with her life that the Gospel is incarnated in any believer and, in the absence of an institutional or hierarchical Church, the commitment of the Christian transforms the more diverse realities.
In Marielle´s activism, the triple nature of baptism became true: she was a prophet, a priestess and a queen. She reported injustice with honesty, she announced love and lived in solidarity, enabling the presence of the Kingdom among the excluded and needy; but as a consequence, just as Christ himself, she paid with her own life the confrontation with the structures that generate poverty and discrimination.
Teachings from Marielle
How much of Marielle´s example do we see in our own countries? Many of our rainbow Catholic communities have decided to join the Pride parades or to raise their voices when a person or a group makes reference of the supposed contradiction between faith and being LGBTI. Through her life testimony, Marielle proved clearly that both dimensions are not in conflict, but complementary to the life experience.
At the same time, is important to recognize and appreciate the presence of women in our Church communities, especially in our lesbian sisters who are rainbow Catholics. They have usually been a minority and even from time to time have chosen to work in parallel to their male counterparts, as they declare to deal with the same barriers of inclusion and recognition present in spaces where diversity is expected to be a fundamental value.
This is Marielle´s legacy: the call to recognize us as diverse and active Catholics in the construction of the Kingdom, the social justice and the fullness that our faith calls us as sons and daughters of God.