“Our young LGBTI+ pilgrims were excited and overjoyed to hear such welcoming and inclusive messages from Pope Francis. Then to hear about the anguish and trauma that they faced is just painful to bear. But we know that their faith is strong and that it always overcomes hatred.” Marianne Duddy-Burke.
World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon was not only a significant event for young Catholics worldwide but also a poignant occasion for the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC). Despite not being officially acknowledged by the event organizers or the Vatican, their presence was undeniable and essential.
Member groups like CaDiv from Portugal, Ichtyys and Crismhom from Spain, and DignityUSA made their way to Lisbon, establishing a sanctuary named *Centro Arco-Iris* where LGBTI+ pilgrims could congregate and support one another. With the guidance of Fr. James Alison, an openly gay priest and theologian, the center was a hub for discussion, sharing experiences, and conducting workshops.
However, it wasn’t without challenges. The intended appearance of Fr. James Martin had to be canceled due to threats from an extreme right-wing minority with deeply homophobic views. GNRC Co Chair, Marianne Duddy-Burke, was particularly shaken when members from Dignity faced threats that made them feel unsafe, leading them to leave an event prematurely.
Moreover, the incidents didn’t stop there. Various members faced direct and indirect acts of aggression. A seemingly innocent gesture of handing a tea bag by a priest with the words “Let’s have a proper brew” felt sinister under the circumstances, especially when done without any warmth or eye contact.
As much as the occasion was about faith and unity, the contrast in the treatment of the LGTBQIA+ pilgrims was stark. From acts of harassment and violence to the theft of rainbow flags, these believers endured adversity for merely expressing their true selves and faith. In one alarming incident, Rainbow Center pilgrims were pelted with rocks, leading them to seek refuge in a police station.
Chris Vella, GNRC Co Chair, voiced his pride in the young LGBTI+ pilgrims, stating, “They conducted themselves with the love of Christ burning in their hearts and shone a beacon of truth and beauty that can extinguish all manner of hatred.”
The events in Lisbon were a stark reminder that while progress has been made, there’s still a long journey ahead for true acceptance and understanding. The organizers of WYD, both in Lisbon and the Vatican, are urged to meet with the leaders of the LGTBQIA+ communities to ensure a safe and inclusive environment in future events.
Echoing the words of Pope Francis, “In the Church we all fit”, “do not be afraid” the LGTBQIA+ Christian communities implore the Church to walk the path of love, tolerance, and inclusion, turning these words into tangible actions. The GNRC and its members remain steadfast, ready to work alongside the Church to achieve these goals.