On Pentecost, Welcoming Diversity with Wonderment and Joy

Ruby Almeida

Today’s post comes from Ruby Almeida, who is the Co-Chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics since 2015, founder of Rainbow Catholics India, the first group for LGBT Catholics in that country, and former Chair of Quest, a pastoral support group for LGBT Catholics in the United Kingdom. Ruby now works for Landings, a programme to support baptised and alienated Catholics who now wish to return to their faith, after a career as a media lecturer and video producer.

Today’s readings for Pentecost Sunday can be found here.

May has always been important to me. It is the month when my beloved mother used to say the rosary in devotion to Mary. As kids we dutifully joined her saying the decade in turn each evening. It is also the month when my father was born, in Goa, India, where tradition was that you were named after the nearest feast day, and in 1924 he was born on Ascension Day! Yes indeed he was named Ascension! And when my father, a jet pilot in the Indian Air Force, would be coming into a landing strip after a sortie mission, a cry would rise from his comrades: “Ascension in on on the descension!” May in London, where I live now, is filled full of flowers in bloom especially azaleas. I have a very fond memory of visiting Isabella Plantations in Richmond Park on my father’s birthday and being surrounded by the incredible spectacle of azaleas in their full glory.

Late May is also the time when preparations for and celebrations of Pride begin around the world. It is a coming together of our diverse LGBTQ community who, having liberated themselves of the yoke of oppression, now celebrate and rejoice in who we are and whom God made us to be.

Hundreds of Pride events around the world are an explosion of exuberance and joy and a statement that says we are here, we exist. And we rejoice. And coming together to rejoice and celebrate the birth of our Church is exactly what we do on Pentecost Sunday.

In today’s liturgical reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told how 50 days after Jesus’ death and resurrection the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who had gathered for ten days earlier for prayer: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim….. yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

This speaking in tongues, this difference and diversity, was not greeted with fear but with wonderment and joy. Remembering that our liturgical service today is a celebration, an explosion of the senses of sight and sound, is surely an amazing way to mark Pentecost Sunday as a true birthday celebration.

Pentecost has many different traditions around the world. Some Churches mark it with baptisms and wearing of white garments. Priests wear red vestments, and sanctuaries depict flames and images of the wind and doves. In Italy rose petals are showered down from the ceiling and in France trumpets sound throughout the service reminding us that the Holy Spirit is coming with the force of rushing winds. How can we, as the LGBTQ community, recognise the Spirit within us? Are we, or can we be, party to that Spirit? Why, yes of course and we are!  I see the Spirit alive in so many ways lately.

The recent Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) controversial statement banning blessings for same-gender couples has been rejected by the LGBTQ community worldwide. This is good and right. But the statement has also been rejected by many bishops in Europe, especially in Germany and Belgium. In rejecting the statement, Bishop Johann Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, talked about the many groups marginalized in the church: the divorcees, the unmarried, LGBTQ people. I would include in that list the sex worker, the drug addict, the homeless, the refugee. All these marginalised people together make up a sizeable portion of the faithful who sit in the pews each Sunday. This shows how the Spirit manifests itself in all its diversity within the marginalised.  Let us not forget that Christ chose the outcasts of society to be his disciples. It is they who were chosen to set up the Church that we love and belong to. The Spirit is within each and every one of us irrespective of culture, age, gender, sexual identity, disability, or income level.

I also see the Spirit in those of all faiths and no faith who are dying of COVID. Recently, a dear colleague of mine was placed in a big ICU COVID ward in India. His survival was touch and go. I thank God every day that he made it. He thanks God every day for every small thing in his life. He now sees everything as if for the first time and is over awed by God in the smallest and seemingly most insignificant items. He has that breath of God within him. That same breath of life, that rush of wind that gave birth to our Church.

As a part of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC), I see the Spirit is there when GNRC Latin America Group gathers. I see it when the GNRC’s Embracing Womyn come together to effect change through its good works. And as a founder member of Rainbow Catholics India, I see the Spirit when we gather for our LGBTQ and COVID meeting.

The Spirit is alive in the recent Wijngaards Report “Christian Objections to Same-Sex Relationships: An Academic Assessment.” I expect to see the Spirit in the upcoming GNRC Theological Committee’s “Statement on Catholic Sexual Conversations in a Diverse Church.”

I see the Spirit when the Roman Catholic Caucus of the European Forum of LGBT Christians gather together to discuss same sex blessings. I see it when many bishops in Europe push back against the CDF’s blessing ban. And I know the Spirit will be among us when here in the U.K, members of Quest London South East go on pilgrimage to Aylesford Abbey, the first Carmelite foundation in our country.

And so on Pentecost Sunday, as we celebrate the birth of our Church, we thank God for our own births and for the love that we have been given to be an integral part of God’s plan.

Ruby Almeida, May 23, 2021

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