A joint funeral has been celebrated for a gay Italian couple after their tragic death, and the presiding priest focused on the families’ grief of losing their two loved ones.
Alex Ferrari and Luca Bortolaso died from carbon monoxide poisoning while spending the New Year’s holiday at a vacation home with two other friends.
Families of the men, who had been engaged for over a year, requested a joint funeral which was approved by the presider and affirmed by the Vicenza diocese.
According to Today, Fr. Roberto Castegnaro, the presider, explained his decision about the funeral, which was held January 5th at the Church of San Giovanni Battista in Arzignano, Italy, :
“There is respect for what their relationship was: we certainly do not consider them as public sinners. The Church condemns public homosexuality. I did not know either of them directly, but I do not think this was the case.”
Castegnaro told R.it that he learned the two men were a couple only after accepting the families’ request for a joint funeral, adding:
“‘[B]ut for me it does not change anything. I repeat, it is the drama of two existences broken up too early and I will have to work hard to spread the message of faith in such a tragic moment. . .I will only think of the homily after having met and talked with Luca’s family, whom I will meet this afternoon. Based on this, I will choose from the sacred texts readings that can help comfort those who tomorrow will be crying at the disappearance of these two boys.'”
Fr. Alessio Graziani, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Vincenza, affirmed Castegnaro’s decision, reported L’Arena:
“The choice of celebrating the funeral of Alex and Luca together responds to the specific request of their families to whom the Church at this moment of immense sorrow wishes to be close with the words of faith. Following the death of two young people, every other comment seems inappropriate. We respect the pain of these families and friends of the two boys and pray with them and for them by entrusting them to God who only truly knows the heart of every person.'”
Italian Senator Monica Cirinnà, a central figure behind the country’s civil unions law, said the families of Luca and Alex “are a virtuous example for all, they love and respect their children with dignity even in extreme pain.”
The decision to hold a joint funeral for the couple is precisely the type of pastoral care for which Pope Francis has called for nearly four years. Frs. Castegnaro and Graziani’s words focus repeatedly on the need to accompany Luca and Alex’s loved ones as they grieve this immense tragedy. Their care is marked by an attentiveness to the people of God’s concrete lives and a merciful response especially to those people who are suffering. They understand, with the blessing of Vincenza’s Bishop Beniamino Pizziol, that accompaniment comes before all else.
This decision is notable, too, for the contrast it provides against church leaders seeking to deny the Sacraments to LGBT people. Two U.S. dioceses have released guidelines which bar Catholics in same-gender civil marriages from being granted funerals. The Diocese of Madison led by Bishop Robert Morlino released its guidelines in October of last year, suggesting that in some cases a Mass for the Dead which does not even name the deceased might be appropriate. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield released similar funeral guidelines on the anniversary of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub massacre.
Luca and Alex’s deaths are tragic incidents, especially given their young age. Thankfully, their families and friends could at least together celebrate the couple’s lives and their love. In this welcoming act by the Church, those grieving will hopefully find the consolation of God’s love that brings healing.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 9, 2017