“But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Prayer vigils against homophobia were started in Italy after Kairos, a gay Christian group from Florence, launched an appeal.
Nowadays, they are held all around the world in countries like Venezuela, Chile, Germany and Spain. Why do so many people attend?
We can probably chalk it up to the sheer structure of the vigils where there’s not only the remembrance of victims of homophobia, but also a message of hope.
Each vigil usually starts with reading stories about victims of homophobia taken from current events or hearing from those who went through these tragedies.
In addition to these fragments of violated lives, positive episodes of the Gospel are read during vigils. Where violence seems to win, we are aware of how important love is. Where intolerance reigns, we need to experience the sense of Christian welcome. Where fear is felt, we need to hold on to faith.
After sharing evidence and a long moment of silent meditation, punctuated by songs and prayers, comes the moment when people talk about how the Gospel’s “alleviating” message helped them beat homophobia.
The examples are many and varied. Many mothers initially rejected news about their children’s homosexuality to become defenders of their rights; priests now tell why they decided to open the doors of their churches to gay people and several coming out stories are told following many years of silence and loneliness.
The importance of these vigils is not only due to how they are conducted, but also to their ecumenical character. They are a place where Christians can meet, talk and exchange ideas.
As a consequence, the bonds between gay Christians and their Christian communities become tighter and tighter. Indeed, one of the aims is to be a bridge between gay Christians and their faith communities.
Looking at the increasing number of organizations and churches that have joined the event year after year is astonishing and has generated many considerations.
Organizing a vigil is never easy. Despite all the odds, you should never give up if you intend to set up a vigil in your own community.
You will certainly face rejection, embarrassing silence and “maybe it’s better if not”. What’s for sure is that you shouldn’t give up at the first resistance.
If no answer comes around for a vigil, why not write and distribute an open letter to your church? Don’t worry if there’s no immediate reply, it will come sooner or later.
In 2007, when prayer vigils for the victims of homophobia was first held, most of the people that showed up belonged to Methodist, Baptist and Waldensian churches.
Their communities actually hosted these vigils, whereas in other cities they took place in private houses.
The second year, the first Catholic parishes turned up and in the third year they doubled in number. In the fourth year, even the bishop of Cremona, Italy decided to attend the vigil in his town with his parishioners.
For the vigils, many gay Christian groups came out and told their stories to help others understand that gay people are not a social category but real people sitting there in the church pews, just like anyone else.
This is also a way to change people’s hearts and minds in the name of a more equal society.