By Lauren Carpenter
If I had to pick one word to summarize my World Youth Day experience, it would be hope. I expected that going to World Youth Day would be going straight into the lion’s den because most of the attendees would be conservative Catholic youth who would either ignore us or argue with us. And indeed there were plenty of people who took the long way around to avoid us as we passed out prayer cards, or who “agreed to disagree” after long conversations. What I was not expecting were the many, many positive responses we got. People would see our banner and seek us out to say things like, “thank you for being here,” or “you are so brave,” or my personal favorite, “The church needs you; keep doing what you’re doing.” We had a group of young people from Ireland come up to us and say that there were nine of them there from their church group, and four of them were gay. They were amazed that an organization like Equally Blessed existed and want to start something in Ireland. We also had a lot of young people who would tell us that one of their best friends was gay, and took a copy of nearly every brochure that we had. We had a priest walk by who gave us a wink and a discrete thumbs-up. We even got an email from a young woman who found one of our cards on the ground at the hostel where she was staying and emailed us to see how she could get involved. There are so many more stories I could share like these.
One of the highlights for all of us was the moment that our group member Ellen got to ask a question of the Bishop during a Q & A. She pointed out the contradiction of being asked to minister to the marginalized while the Church marginalized her as a lesbian, and asked the Bishop his thoughts. After she asked the question, the church erupted in applause. I get chills just thinking about it because it was so unexpected and powerful. The applause of those young people showed us that they are hungry for dialogue. They want us to ask questions because they want their LGBT brothers and sisters to be welcome in the Church. They want to speak, but maybe have not found their voices yet. My hope is that on this pilgrimage, we helped give some pro-LGBT Catholics their voice. I think there are many young people in the Church who want to be supportive, but just have not found the voice to do so. I hope that by seeing an example of what it means to be an LGBT Catholic or ally, and by knowing that entire organizations of people exist who support LGBT Catholics, they will find their voice and join our movement, even if it just means speaking up when they hear friends, youth ministers, or parish priests say harmful things about LGBT people.
I also pray that our experience can be an inspiration for all of you. I know many of you in the Dignity community have devoted your entire lives to this work, and you should know that, in my opinion, there is reason for hope.