The following story on our World Youth Day pilgrims appeared in the Athens (Ohio) NEWS
OU LGBT Center director attends global event as part of advocacy team
By Erica Mowry
One of the individuals responsible for organizing a recent pilgrimage to Brazil to relay a pro-LGBT message is the recently appointed director of Ohio University's LGBT Center, 31-year-old Delfin Bautista.
Six Roman Catholic pilgrims from across the United States recently banded together to deliver their pro-LGBT message to fellow attendees at the site of this year's World Youth Day (WYD) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They embarked not only on their first trip to WYD, but also journeyed into the unknown as a visibly gay rights advocacy faction in a foreign setting.
The week of July 23-28 marked the 13th installation of WYD, an international event organized by the Catholic Church. The event is held every two to three years in different host cities around the world, drawing thousands from across the globe, as stated on the website for this year's WYD, http://www.rio2013.com/en. According to the site, the event, which was first held in 1986 in Rome, "is a gathering of young people from all over the world with the Pope. It is a meeting to build and strengthen the bonds of faith, friendship and hope, symbolizing the union between people of different cultures and countries."
The group of six was sponsored by Equally Blessed, a "coalition of four Catholic organizations that have spent more than 120 years working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families," according to their website.
LGBT Center Director Bautista, who started at OU on June 1, is a graduate of Yale Divinity School with a master's degree in divinity, who also holds a master's in social work from the University of Pennsylvania. Bautista's efforts involving the WYD pilgrimage commenced about a year ago.
Discussion about attending the Youth Day in Brazil began while Bautista and others were participating in a non-violence training session in Los Angeles sponsored by Call To Action, part of the umbrella of coalitions associated with Equally Blessed.
Bautista, who identifies as trans and "two-spirited," explained that this initial starting point connected the pilgrims together, presenting an opportunity to practice the principles of non-violence they were learning and then implement them on the grounds of WYD.
"Leading up to the trip, we sort of developed a community even if we didn't see each other face to face," said Bautista.
Bautista noted that although only six would be present in the flesh at WYD, the group wanted to include the wider community in the experience as well. This paved the way for donations of items that would accompany the group on their trip, including rainbow rosaries, ribbons, prayer cards, pom-poms and sashes.
"You name it, we pretty much had it. It was our way of inviting others into the experience who couldn't be on the ground with us," Bautista said.
As one of the trip organizers, Bautista provided fellow group members with the proper resources to have the conversations they were anticipating once landing on Brazilian soil, and helped handle the logistics of the trip, including the monetary costs of airfare and housing accommodations while abroad.
Call To Action paid for the pilgrims' registration and lodging costs, which roughly totaled $2,000 with the conversion from Brazilian to U.S. currency. Airfare, the group's most sizeable expense, was up to them. This led the group as a whole to fundraise and meet their goal of $8,000, covering everyone's airfare expenses. After all of this, the group was finally able to navigate its way to Rio.
Upon their arrival on Tuesday, they received IDs and backpacks with materials, Bautista said.
Each morning for about two to three hours, Wednesday through Friday, education sessions or catechisms led by a bishop in the language most familiar to the pilgrims was held, followed by mass in the afternoons. Then, throughout the day, a plethora of activities were held, including concerts in the evening and various cultural events, Bautista explained.
Wearing shirts emblazoned with "Gay? Fine by me," and a banner stating their cause, the group utilized their time during breaks to go outside and share their thoughts on how the LGBT community fits into the Catholic community's puzzle.
"Some people would look at us with strange faces, but a lot of people would come up to us and yearn for the conversation," Bautista noted.
"We had anticipated encountering resistance," Bautista added. "People who would just vocally disagree with us and we did encounter that, but the vast majority of the conversations and interactions we had were very affirming… That really gave me hope that not only within the Catholic world, but also in the larger religious world, things are changing."
Bautista said that the most difficult conversations actually occurred with other Americans who were conservative in their approach to Catholicism. Although the group members met some resistance, Bautista said that interactions with other cultures shed light on the level of tolerance for LGBT groups that Americans may take for granted.
For example, Bautista recalls speaking with a group from India who said that "to see the word Catholic and gay in the same sentence in an affirming, positive way had never been heard of," and a Jamaican group said that the six pilgrims would likely have been shot and killed upon arrival, had the event been held in Jamaica.
"It was an eye-opening experience for us that this conversation, as difficult as it is here in the U.S. in certain places, takes on a whole different life of its own in other countries, so it was just really exciting to be embraced by so many different people from all over the world," Bautista said.
Having made it through its first WYD experience, the group already is looking forward to the next chapter. The next World Youth Day is slated for 2016 in Krakow, Poland, and Bautista said they're already starting to put plans into motion.