We Spoke With the Pope's Openly Gay Former Student

October 6th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

When Pope Francis visited the U.S. last month, he met with prisoners, parishioners, and the poor, making rounds from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia in an effort the spread his message of unity in the face of adversity. And while Kim Davis made much of her meeting with the pope, Francis' only real audience was his former student, Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man who says that the Davis meeting was arranged by an official at the Vatican Embassy in Washington.

ATTN: caught up with Grassi recently and asked, among other things, what it was like to talk to Pope Francis during his historic U.S. tour.

ATTN: When did you first meet Pope Francis (then Jorge Mario Bergoglio) and what was your impression of him?


#PopeFrancis Keeping the @PhillyPolice Happy #PapaFrancisco #popeinphilly

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​Grassi: I met him 1964, when I was in my fourth year of high school, and he came into the classroom and introduced himself as Father Bergoglio, and told us that we would be stuck with him for two years while he taught us literature. I think he gave the same impression to the whole class. If I ask any of my ex-classmates, they will say the same thing: he was an extraordinary presence. Very humble, very quiet, but very dominant at the same time in the sense that you could feel his presence and you could feel that he was respecting you and asking for respect from you.

RELATED: Pope Francis Met With A Gay Atheist Before Meeting Kim Davis

ATTN: How did the pope react when he learned that you were gay?

Grassi: Well, we actually never talked about it. In all the times, all the opportunities I had to see him or talk to him, that was never discussed. I didn't think that it was important. As I've said before, to me being gay is not a status. It's as natural as my blue eyes or my blond hair. I wouldn't discuss my blue eyes with the pope or anybody else except with my optometrist. But with the pope, I didn't think that it was the right thing to do. I didn't feel that he wanted to do it or that I wanted to do it, which is more important. It was an understanding between the two of us. I think that he knew that I was gay before I even knew, so I wouldn't be surprised if when we met, he would have thought, 'Oh, I was right all the time.' It wasn't an issue between us.

ATTN: Would you describe Pope Francis as progressive?

Grassi: I would describe him as an extraordinary intelligence, a superior intelligence, and that his positions have always been of integrating people, bringing people together, illuminating people. We have a tendency, usually, to polarize things. We polarize conservatives against progressives, and gays against straights, and I don't think that that's his attitude. I wouldn't think that he considers himself progressive. I think he is above and beyond that.


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ATTN: How did you respond when you heard that the pope met with Kim Davis?

Grassi: Of course I was flabbergasted by the announcement. But immediately I started to find a lot of fishy elements to that story such as, for example, that they had a private audience with the pope and the only thing that she could say about the whole audience—the only thing that pope said to her was to be courageous and grabbed her hand and gave her a rosary. And I thought, 15 minutes is a long time for [the] 10 seconds being reported. So there's something that doesn't exactly click in this story.

I had several words with friends of mine who are gay and who are Catholic who rushed into judging the news, and my position was we don't know what happened. We only know what she tells us, and it's quite curious that although we don't like her attitude, we are so ready to believe what she tells us. From the second that I read the news, I immediately suspected that this was arranged in a way that it was completely unknown by the pope—that he had no idea who this person was and it was arranged somebody who actually wanted, in some way, to hurt him. And I knew that Monsignor Viganò at the embassy was behind it. I was actually gratified, vindicated when I learned that that was exactly the case.

RELATED: Vatican Clarifies Pope Francis' Visit With Kim Davis

ATTN: What was your own private audience with Pope Francis like?

My meeting with him was a very simple meeting. It was a meeting of two friends who haven't seen each other for a couple of years. Although I initiated the conversation about seeing him. When I saw the grueling schedule he had in Washington, I wrote back to him and said, 'Perhaps it's better if we don't see each other this time. You're going to be extremely busy and exhausted and there are other people that need you more than I do, and perhaps you want to talk to them.' He actually called me on the phone two weeks before his trip and we talked about several things, but he insisted twice that he would like to give me a hug. And you know, who am I to say no to a pope? So that was the reason why we actually met.

But it was really, very personal, and at the same time, I was taking with me four of my friends who, for different reasons, needed to see the pope. And because I wanted them to enjoy the visit with the pope, I didn't take a role in it. I kept myself behind the scenes, and so they had a great time talking to him. He recognized my boyfriend from the times that we met in Rome. He joked with him. As he was exiting the room, my boyfriend, who is from Indonesia, said something in Spanish, and he turned around and said, 'What did you say?' And my boyfriend repeated. And he looks at me and said, 'Did you teach him Spanish?'

It was that kind of—it was never formal. After we embrace and we start to walk, I'm telling him, 'You look tired. You must be exhausted.' And he said, 'Well, I just had a bite, but I wanted to see you. And then after this, I have to go to a mass.' And I said to him, 'You are crazy.' This didn't have to happen. So it was really very nice. I was the one who was pushing him to close the audience because I was feeling guilty that he was giving us so much time of his visit, and I said to him, 'Well, I think that we have taken too much time from you,' and he says to me, 'Oh no, my God, it is so wonderful that you came.' The whole thing had that tone.


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ATTN: What would you say the most important message was that Pope Francis brought to America?

Grassi: It's hard to pick one, but I think that one that encompasses all of them would be that we need to be together—that we need to be together in fighting for the environment, in fighting for the rights of the poor, fighting for the rights of immigrants. And I think that the message is, if we don't do it together, we are not going to be able do it. I think that what he said at Congress, the Golden Rule—Don't do unto other what you don't like to be done to yourself—it is basically the bone of his visit and his message in the United States.

We haven't heard this from a pope before.

Posted by ATTN: on Wednesday, September 23, 2015