ROME, December 20, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican Nativity scene featuring a naked man, a corpse, and no sheep or oxen is the artistic offering of an abbey which is the focus of Italian LGBT activists, it has emerged.
Enquiries by LifeSiteNews have revealed that the Abbey of Montevergine, which donated the innovative ‘Nativity of Mercy,’ houses the Marian image that has been adopted as patroness by LGBT activists in Italy. The abbey shrine is the annual destination of a sort of sacred and profane “ancestral gay pride” pilgrimage which, according to one LGBT activist, in recent years has gained the “active, political participation of the LGBT community.”
An official of the Vatican’s Governorate has told LifeSiteNews that the abbey of Montevergine initially proposed the original idea for the ‘Nativity of Mercy.’ The Vatican discussed and developed a more detailed design with the abbey, then submitted final plans to the Secretary of State and Pope Francis for approval, which was duly granted.
“The presence of the Vatican Nativity Scene for us is a reason to be even happier this year,” Antonello Sannini, president of homosexual activist group Arcigay Naples, told LifeSiteNews on Tuesday. “For the homosexual and transsexual community in Naples, it is an important symbol of inclusion and integration.”
Fury over the Christmas crèche
The Christmas crèche fury blew up on Twitter last week, when photos of a virtually nude male figure representing the corporal work of mercy ‘to clothe the naked’ made the rounds on social media, sparking sharp criticism and debate.
Viewers lamented the figure’s “prominent placement and languid pose,” according to Breitbart, which reported that the figure’s pose “led many on social media to suggest that there is a vaguely homoerotic tone to the scene.”
Facebook, adding to the fury, rejected the photo referencing its policy against “sexually suggestive or provocative” images.
One observer remarked, regarding the poor man in need of clothes: “I’ve worked with a personal trainer. That guy’s been in the gym two hours a day, six days a week.”
“This horrendous exhibit, a sacrilegious, highly deceitful and malevolent attempt to turn the holy innocence of the manger in St. Peter’s Square into a lobbying tool for the homosexual rights movement, is just the latest fiendish act, but one that’s symptomatic of this entire pontificate,” one source close to the Vatican told LifeSiteNews.
Meanwhile, the Neapolitan artist who crafted the crèche, Antonio Cantone, appeared to suggest that he intended it to be provocative.
“It is not a camp nativity; it is particular and makes you think,” he said. “It leaves no one indifferent; there are provocations.”
Enter a Marian Icon
This year’s Christmas crèche also features a reproduction of the ancient and beautiful icon of Our Lady of Montevergine. The original icon, housed in a chapel of the mountain shrine, measures 12 feet high and six feet wide, and depicts the Blessed Virgin seated on a throne with the divine Infant Jesus seated on her lap.
The Marian image is dark, and so the icon is often referred to as one of the “Black Madonnas.” Among local Italians, her dark complexion made them believe she was part of the serving class and so she came to be affectionately known by the faithful as “Mamma Schiavano” or “Slave Mama.”
Each year, Our Lady of Montevergine is honored through two pilgrimages to her mountain shrine: one on February 2, the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Candlemas; and the second on September 12, the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, which is preceded by a three-day festival.
On the night before the feast pilgrims are hosted by Ospedaletto d’Alpinolo, the nearest town to the abbey, before making the “sagliuta” or “juta” (from the Italian “salire,” i.e. ascent) on foot to the shrine of Our Lady of Montevergine early the next morning. The three-day celebration is a mix of sacred and profane, and features dances and songs accompanied by large tambourines.
The “juta dei femminielli”
Our Lady of Montevergine has a particular significance for homosexuals and transgenders in Italy. According to a legend, Our Lady of Montevergine saved two homosexuals from death in the winter of 1256. The couple had been beaten and driven by night from their city and brought to the mountain where they were tied to a tree and left to die of the cold or be eaten by wolves. According to the legend, Our Lady of Montevergine had pity on them and ‘miraculously’ freed them. In 2017, La Repubblica called it “the progressive miracle of a gay friendly Madonna.”
More commonly, she is known as the mother “who grants everything and forgives everything.”
The “juta dei femminielli” [ascent of the femminielli] is therefore held each year on Candlemas Day to recall the legend through song and dance. Femminielli is a term used to refer to a population of homosexual males with markedly feminine gender expression in traditional Neapolitan culture.
The LGBT community also looks to Our Lady of Montevergine because she sits on the ancient temple site where the pagan goddess Cybele was once worshiped. In a 2014 article entitled “the procession of the femminielli,” La Repubblica noted that the eunuch priests of Cybele ritually castrated themselves “to offer their sex as a gift to their goddess in order to be reborn with a new identity.”
Antonello Sannino, the president of Arcigay Naples, told LifeSite that the “juta dei femminielli” involves a “mix of the sacred and profane.” Admitting his own distance from the Church, Sannino said “there is a strong popular devotion among believers” but for others represents entrusting oneself to a non-Christian divinity.
The annual Candlemas pilgrimage is a kind of “ancestral gay pride,” he said, and has been a “way to welcome into the culture of the city [of Naples], the figure of the femminiello which is disruptive in a binary ‘masculine-feminine’ society.”
In 2002, the pilgrimage made the papers when the then abbot of Montevergine, Tarcisio Nazzaro, expressed his displeasure at the presence of the Neapolitan ‘femminielli.’
According to La Repubblica, during Holy Mass, Nazzaro told them: “Your prayers aren’t prayers but a clamor that Our Lady is not pleased with and so does not welcome. You are like the merchants that filled the temple until Jesus threw them out.” Allegedly, he later confided to the Sacristan: “I don’t have anything against anyone and I didn’t wish to offend anyone, much less these individual faithful. But what’s too much is too much. We need a little respect for the sacred place, and the dignity of the shrine has to be preserved.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraphs 2358-2359, that although homosexual inclinations are “objectively disordered,” men and women who suffer this trial “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” but like all Christians they are “called to chastity” and to Christian perfection.
Sannino didn’t berate the abbot but thought the presence at the abbey in 2002 of Vladimir Luxuria, Italy’s first transsexual parliamentarian, precipitated the dispute. “It was too political in 2002,” he said.
That incident galvanized the LGBT movement, Ottavia Voza, president of Arcigay Salerno, told LifeSite. Another minor incident followed in 2010, but the “active, political participation of the LGBT community” began after the dispute in 2002.
A new abbot and a new approach
In September 2014 under Pope Francis, a new abbot of Montevergine was elected, Dom Riccardo Luca Guariglia. Earlier that year, Luxuria wrote a letter to Pope Francis on behalf of the LGBT community, and publicly presented it at the Candlemas pilgrimage at the Shrine of Montevergine. No one is aware of a response to that letter. An English translation can be read here.
In 2017, leaders of the LGBT community met Abbot Guariglia. Voza said the relations are now “excellent” and this year they “had an opportunity for dialogue with the abbot.” Voza told LifeSite that Vladimir Luxuria was there and the abbot “stopped to speak with us.” It wasn’t a private meeting but “in essence, he gave us his blessing,” Voza continued, adding that the incident in 2002 “was completely overcome.”
“He welcomed us,” Voza said, “and understood the importance of the presence of the community.”
Matters also intensified politically in 2017 when LGBT activists inaugurated Italy’s first ever “no gender” bathroom in Ospedaletto d’Alpinolo during the February 2 pilgrimage, and a civilly ‘married’ homosexual couple was given honorary citizenship by Ospedaletto d’Alpinolo’s civic authorities. Together with the LGBT activists, the civil authorities also unveiled a plaque at the entrance of the town, reading “Ospedaletto d’Alpinolo is against homotransphobia and gender violence.”
At the ceremony, Vladimir Luxuria said the small town of Ospedaletto d’Alpinolo should serve as a model for the rest of Italy.
Abbot Guariglia was interviewed about the ‘juta dei femminielli’ in 2017, saying: “St. Benedict tells us that guests are to be welcomed as Christ himself” and the abbey has “this peculiarity, that of being welcoming every type of pilgrim who comes to the shrine, first, to give homage or to entrust themselves to the Mother of God, and then also to celebrate the Sacraments.”
Descent into neo-paganism
Sannino welcomed the Vatican Nativity Scene, saying he believes it is an “important symbol of inclusion and integration,” but whether it signifies greater openness by the Church depends on “how conscious” Vatican officials were of the connection with LGBT activists in making the decision. “We hope that the Church will finally develop a real sense of openness in the wake of the Pope’s words,” he said, referring to Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment. “The Church is extremely slow in its transformations,” he believes, and is fairly confident “this will also happen.”
But people in Rome are wondering how Pope Francis will respond. As in past years, Pope Francis is expected to spend time before the crèche in silent prayer on December 31 after Vespers and the chanting of the Te Deum prayer of thanksgiving in St. Peter’s Basilica. The concern is that the optics of his silent prayer before the icon of Montevergine and the naked man, positioned on either side of the Nativity Scene, will send a signal, or be used by the more politically motivated in the LGBT community, to push their agenda.
Officially, the Vatican isn’t commenting on the Nativity scene, so it’s unclear how aware those who made the decisions are of its connections to Montevergine abbey and its associations with Italy’s LGBT activists. LifeSite contacted Vatican spokesman Greg Burke but he declined to answer.
Italian Church historian Roberto de Mattei of the Lepanto Foundation sees this as the latest attempt to “paganize Italy and Europe” through indirect means, in what he calls “soft neo-paganization.”
This involves choosing places of Christian worship “to return them to their pagan origins,” De Mattei explained, sending Christianity back into the age of catacombs where it was persecuted by the pagans. The LGBT movement is not only political or cultural but a “religious movement” with pagan characteristics, he added. “This should not surprise us, because sex was also at the center of many pagan cults,” De Mattei said. “This therefore portends a new neo-pagan persecution of those who remain faithful to Catholicism.”
De Mattei noted that next year marks 50 years since the cultural, or sexual, revolution of 1968, and he believes it is now being “transformed into a religious revolution” where sex is still at the center, but being “transformed into a divinity intended to replace Christianity.”