LGBTQ+ Pilgrims to World Youth Day Were Visible, Affirming Presence

DignityUSA pilgrims at World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal

In August, among the more than one million young adults who traveled to Lisbon to be a part of World Youth Day were a group sent to shed light on the LGBTQ+ community in the Catholic Church.

The members of the group, which was sponsored by DignityUSA, wore Pride flag sashes throughout at the event to be visible. They also raised n awareness of the LGBTQ+ community by handing out Pride pins and prayer cards, as well as engaging passersby in conversation.

A member of the group, Cassidy Klien, shared about the group’s experiences in a recent essay for U.S. Catholic. Klien emphasized the importance of being noticeable: “Our purpose for being at World Youth Day was to be a visible, affirming, and encouraging presence for LGBTQ Catholics and allies from around the world.”

The group’s members were open to having conversations with people who had various levels of knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community. Some people were less knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ issues, but they wanted to learn more and to engage.

Klein details the mostly positive experiences of meeting others in this journey. For example, they had the opportunity to interact with Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney. Klein believes the archbishop wanted to learn from them about how best to engage with LGBTQ+ people in the church.

The group’s presence made other LGBTQ+ Catholics feel affirmed in their own identity. Klein wrote: “A person wearing a tie-dye shirt commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall said, ‘I’m not alone!’ when they saw us.”

Klein and friends met with others in the LGBTQ+ community at World Youth Day through visiting the Rainbow Center, organized by the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, an international network. Klien said that the Rainbow Center “functioned as a small safe haven where we got to meet other LGBTQ Catholics and allies from all over—Slovakia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, the UK, and more.”

One of the more vulnerable situationss for the group was going up for Communion during Mass wearing their Pride sashes. They worried that perhaps they would be denied Communion because of this outward statement of identity. Although all members were given Communion, some sensed a hesitancy from the eucharistic minister.

Although the interactions were overwhelmingly positive, Klien also shares that they encountered some people who were less than thrilled to see Pride symbols at a Catholic event. One person grabbed a member’s Pride flag during Mass and ran away with it. At another time, the group was approached continuously in a threatening manner. However Klein shared, “Even in the hard encounters we had I felt a deep sense of peace through it all, like God was with us.”

In the vastness of World Youth Day, Klein and the group from DignityUSA provided a visible witness to the community of queer Catholics within the church. Klein said that these individual encounters were proof that LGBTQ+ visibility is important within Church spaces, and that their presence at World Youth Day was an act that “makes ripples and plants seeds in people’s memories, imaginations, and hearts.”

For Klein, the work was not over when World Youth Day ended:

“My World Youth Day experience reminded me why I love being Catholic—why this identity, even though it’s complicated, means so much to me. I want to continue to commit to be visible in church spaces, carrying the bravery of Catholics throughout time, all over the world, who are witnesses to a different way, to a more loving church.”

Liam Myers (he/him), September 15, 2023

2 replies
  1. Brian McNeill
    Brian McNeill says:

    It’s great that the group from Dignity USA wore the Rainbow Sash during the World Youth Day event in Portugal this summer. The Rainbow Sash began as a tradition from Australia where it was worn on Pentecost Sunday to make the LGBTQIA+ community visible in the Church at Mass. I hope those who wore the Sash this summer in Portugal will wear it in their home cathedral this coming Pentectost, May 19, 2024. Another part of the tradition is to write to the local bishop telling him what the sash means, and that you are going to wear it at a particular Mass, joining fellow Catholics at the communion table on Pentecost as a sign of the diversity the Spirit creates in the Church and the world.


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