A leading prelate in Brazil joined with two LGBTQ groups to hold a memorial Mass for those who had died due to homophobic and transphobic violence.
Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha of Salvador celebrated the Mass in mid-May alongside LGBTQ Catholics, activists, and some leaders of other faith groups (as well as one drag performer who sang “a popular Brazilian version of Ave Maria”). Crux reported further:
“In his homily, da Rocha remembered the large number of LGBT people killed in Brazil in 2020, especially in the Northeast region, where Bahia State is located.
“‘The Church is called to be a merciful mother; it suffers with the violence perpetrated against the people. […] Violence against the LGBTI+ population is a sad signal of a society which is used to constant violations of life, of dignity, of the rights of so many victims of brutal death,’ the cardinal said.
“He emphasized that no form of violence can be tolerated and that Brazilians ‘cannot get used to so many violent deaths, as if they were normal or inevitable.'”
The Mass came about at the request of two LGBTQ groups, the Center for Advocacy and Defense of the LGBT Rights in Bahia State (CPDD/LGBT) and the Beneficent Institution Conceição Macedo (IBCM):
“‘According to Renildo Barbosa, CPDD/LGBT’s director, the Archdiocese of Salvador promptly responded to the request for a Mass in for those of murdered members of the LGBT community.
“‘We saw it as a gesture of love and greeting from the Church. A lot of LGBT people believe in Christ and love the Catholic Church. A bridge has been built,’ Barbosa told Crux.
Organizer Fr. Lázaro Muniz said that church officials “welcomed” the invitation to hold a Mass because the church always sides with oppressed peoples and always praysfor the dead, so this Mass was entirely in keeping with those traditions.
Brazil’s Network of LGBT Catholic Groups expressed its support for the Mass:
“‘We didn’t expect anything like that. The importance of a high episcopal authority accepting to celebrate a Mass for the victims of LGBTphobia is undeniable,’ Cris Serra, the network’s coordinator, told Crux.
“Serra stressed the fact that da Rocha used the abbreviation ‘LGBTI+’, and not the generic term ‘homosexual’ more commonly employed by Church officials.
“‘When Cardinal da Rocha – the Primate of Brazil – said “LGBTI+”, he refused to condone the erasure of the people that we are and to repeat the Church’s rejection to listening to us and to recognizing the legitimacy of our experience and of what we have to say about ourselves,’ Serra said.”
Serra also noted that celebrating the Mass was also “noteworthy” because it happened after the Vatican’s ban on blessing same-gender couples was issued in March. About the general reaction to that ban from church leaders in Brazil, Serra said “The silence has been scandalous,” especially compared with the critical response from the Global North.
Cardinal da Rocha said at the Mass that “[the church] suffers with the violence perpetrated against the people.” His inclusion of LGBTQ people as among those victims with whom the church stands is much needed in Brazil, which is both the world’s largest Catholic nation and a country where levels of anti-transgender violence are exceedingly high. Indeed, last year there was a 41% spike in transgender murders, totaling some 175 victims, a majority of whom were Black. Da Rocha’s openness to the LGBTQ groups’ request and his willingness to extend the church’s pastoral care is a witness more Brazilian pastors will hopefully imitate as a response to the nation’s grave anti-LGBTQ violence crisis underway.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 15, 2021