During the 2008 conference of the European Forum we wondered what might be going on in the lesbian and gay Christian groups of Italy. Michael found a large bundle of answers at the weekend from 7th to 9th of November 2008 in Florence, where he represented the European Forum at two parallel meetings.
The first one was the national conference of REFO (Rete Evangelica Fede e Omosessualità = Protestant Network Faith and Homosexuality) with ca. 60 participants. REFO consists of three local groups (in Rome, Milano and Florence) and various single members. Refo can be found on the web.
The conference celebrated the ten years of existence of REFO with contributions reviewing the developments of this time, especially the success of last year, when the common synod of the Valdesians, the Methodists and the Baptists - Protestant churches of Italy which are working closely together - have passed a motion, in which gays, lesbians, bi- and transsexuals are explicitly welcomed. These churches confess their historical guilt and speak out against any act of violence and homophobic discrimination. The document of the synod was prepared by a group of pastors of these churches beginning in 2000 in cooperation with REFO. Only the passage about the blessing of same-sex partnerships or marriages was not accepted by the synod and will be discussed in the future.
But further progress is not to be expected easily, because now a lot of immigrants from Africa have joined the Protestant parishes of Italy and usually don't have any understanding of homosexuality. The paradox for the idea of inclusive communities that results from this situation was intensively debated at the conference. An important contribution to this question was given by Jean from the French network «Carrefour des Chrétiens inclusifs», who has done intensive empirical research about inclusive Christian communities in Europe in preparation for a doctoral thesis.
Roman Catholic groups
After this REFO-conference, there was another meeting together with several local Roman Catholic groups (Milan, Florence, Padua, Rome, Rimini, Naples, Bologna etc.) and one Old Catholic group from Milan. They decided to continue in 2009 the two-year-old tradition of a vigil for the victims of homophobia, that will be on May 17th, the international day against homophobia. Its motto comes from 1 John 4.18: ‘Who has fear, is not perfect in love’.
On Saturday evening the first meeting of the Roman Catholic groups of Italy after the collapse of their coordination (COCI) five years ago, when the president could not get a politcal mandate from the member groups to speak for them in public, took place in a pizzeria. The majority of these groups meet regularly on Sunday for a lectio continua of an interesting book, for prayer and to share the gospel in an intense personal exchange. A confident relationship with their bishop is more important to them than a public political statement. Michael's impression was that a ‘new generation’ met for the first time in this pizzeria. They were very interested in the work of the European Forum, which Michael was invited to introduce to them, focussing on the Roman Catholic book project.
Although many of them haven’t met personally before, they were already connected by the website www.gionata.org, where a lot of important informations, texts and the discussion among the Roman Catholic groups can be found.