On Saturday, January 6, our Soulforce-Dignity/USA delegation marches on the Vatican. The Italian police have warned us that no protest has ever been allowed in St. Peter’s Square. In spite of their warnings, tomorrow we carry flowers to place on beneath the Pope’s window on that tragic spot where Alfredo Ormando, a young gay writer, burned himself to death (January 13, 1998) to protest the teachings and actions of the Vatican against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children.
Read Alfredo’s story below. It is only a few paragraphs long, but I guarantee that it will change your life as it has changed ours. Watch the web page for the latest news from Rome. Stand vigil in solidarity with us at a Catholic cathedral or local parish church in your town. Here’s how you can help. Spread the word. This religious war against us by Catholic and Protestant leaders must end before others die by their own hand or by baseball bats in the hands of others.
This is Alfredo’s story, but it is also the story of millions of GLBT Catholics (and Protestants) who are victims of the teachings and actions of their churches. To find out more about Alfredo and the film that is being made about his life, Alfredo’s Fire, read Andy Wilson’s Open Eye Pictures web page. A prize-winning, Emmy nominated filmmaker, Andy is filming our Soulforce-Dignity/USA protest in Rome. You can contribute to that film project on his web page and you can help underwrite our Vatican action with a tax-deductible donation, large or small.
In the meantime, begin this new millennium by reading Alfredo’s story. And when you’ve read it, ask yourself what you can do to help end the suffering of our sisters and brothers in the US and abroad. Our Creator calls us to do justice. If we don’t do it now, when will we do it? This is a time for new beginnings. We guarantee you that by doing justice you will find your own spirit renewed and your own life transformed.
From the Diary of Alfredo Ormando
"I’ve prepared all of the minimum details. Monday night I’ll depart for Rome by bus. Tuesday morning I’ll be at San Pietro… They will think I’m a lunatic because I chose the Vatican to set myself on fire. I hope they’ll understand the message I want to leave: it is a form of protest against the Church that demonizes homosexuality–and at the same time all of nature, because homosexuality is a child of Mother Nature."
Story & Background
Alfredo Ormando, 39-years old, arrived by bus in Rome just as the sun was rising on January 13, 1998. After his long journey from Palermo, he found his way to the empty streets of the Vatican and, facing the entrance to the Basilica, knelt down as if to pray. He made a rapid hand gesture and suddenly was engulfed in flames. Before the Church and the world, Alfredo Ormando had set himself on fire.
A crowd soon gathered and Alfredo’s burnt body was rushed to the hospital. As he lay there in a coma, few from his large, Southern Italian family made a visit. Even his elderly mother was kept in the dark by other family members, and to this day believes her favorite son was killed in a car accident. In one of the two letters found inside Alfredo’s knapsack, he wrote, "The monster is leaving so as no longer to bring you shame…I’m taking my life because my family and society don’t accept me."
Born in the small Sicilian village of San Cataldo, he lived a life alienated from his uneducated, peasant family, striving to find expression for the difference he felt in himself. At once oppressed by and bound to Sicilian codes of silence, honor and family, he sought refuge as a student at a Franciscan seminary and monastery. Disillusioned by what he experienced there as moral hypocrisy, Alfredo renounced his religious studies after two years, choosing instead the life of a contemplative writer–and a gay man leading a clandestine, double life. In his semi-autobiographical novel "Il Fratacchione" (The Jolly Monk), Alfredo recounts his time at the monastery, prompted by an earlier suicide attempt and reflective of a man torn by conflict between spirit and flesh, desire and reality.
Never before had there been a suicide attempt by self-immolation at the Vatican. But through its spokesperson, Father Ciro Benedettini, the Church downplayed the significance of the act: "In the letter found on Alfredo Ormando, he doesn’t affirm in any way that his actions were prompted by his presumed homosexuality or as a protest against the Church…He tried to kill himself for no better explanation than family motives."
Gay activists in Rome angrily responded: "We are stunned by yet another tragedy caused by the cultural oppression of the Catholic Church. It appears the city of Rome under this Pontificate has plunged back into the dark ages of the rack." Arcigay, the national gay political organization, promptly declared January 13th Alfredo Ormando Day–an "international day of struggle against sexual discrimination for religious motives." Some activists even referred to Alfredo’s gesture as the "Italian Stonewall," the decisive moment of coalescence and collective action against homosexual oppression. This year’s World Pride demonstration in Rome, meant to coincide with the Church’s Jubilee celebration, was in part motivated by Alfredo’s gesture.
Alfredo died ten days later from burns covering 90 percent of his body–a suffering, he once described in a journal, that would be miniscule compared to the pain he endured while alive. "If the gasoline doesn’t do its job, burn me and spread my ashes in the countryside," he wrote, leaving behind an enigmatic and emblematic human tragedy which echoes in incidents across the world. What really was Alfredo’s fire and how far do the ashes blow?
"I ask the entire world forgiveness for my crimes against nature, a nature so dear to, yet desecrated by, Christianity. I ask forgiveness for coming into this world, for having tainted the air that you breathe with my venal breath, for having dared to think and act as a man, for not having accepted an ‘otherness’ that I did not feel, for having considered homosexuality natural, for having felt equal to heterosexuals and second to no one, for having longed for…, for having dreamed…"