TORVAIANICCA, Italy (AP) — Pope Francis’s final speech A welcome gesture for transgender people Catholics resonated strongly in the working-class, coastal town south of Rome, where a community of trans women found help and hope through a remarkable relationship with the pope nurtured during the darkest times of the pandemic.
Thanks to the local parish priest, these women now make monthly visits to Francis’ Wednesday general meetings, where they are given VIP seats. On any given day, they receive alms of medicine, money and shampoo. When the coronavirus struck, the Vatican bussed them to its health facility so they could be vaccinated before most Italians.
On Sunday, these women — many of them Latin American migrants and prostitutes — will join more than 1,000 other poor and homeless people in the Vatican hall as Francis’ guests for lunch on the Catholic Church’s World Day of the Poor. For Torvaianica’s marginalized transgender community, this is just a new inclusionary gesture from a pope who has made outreach to the LGBTQ+ community a hallmark of his papacy, in word and deed.
“Previously, the church was closed to us. They didn’t look at us as normal people, they looked at us as the devil,” said Andrea Paula Torres Lopez, a Colombian transgender woman known as Consuelo, whose kitchen is decorated with images of Jesus. “Then the pope arrived.” Francis and opened the doors of the church for us.”
Francis’ latest initiative was a document from the Vatican’s doctrinal office confirming that, in some circumstances, transgender people can be baptized and can serve as godparents and witnesses at weddings. This came after another statement issued recently by the Pope himself Same-sex couples can receive church blessings.
In both cases, the new statements reflected the perception Absolute ban On Transgender People Serving as Godparents, issued by the Vatican Doctrine Office in 2015, and on same-sex blessings announced in 2021.
Prominent LGBTQ+ organizations welcomed Francis’ message of inclusivity, given that gay and trans people have long felt ostracized and discriminated against by a church that officially teaches that same-sex sexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”
Starting from famous “Who am I to judge?” Comment in 2013 about an allegedly gay priest, confirming in January that “Being gay is not a crime” Francis has developed his position to make increasingly clear that everyone – “everyone, everyone, everyone” – are children of God, loved by God and welcome in the Church.
This judgment-free stance is not necessarily shared by the rest of the Catholic Church. The recent Vatican meeting of bishops and laity, known as the Synod, I backed away from the language He explicitly calls for welcoming Catholics from the LGBTQ+ community. Conservative Catholics, including cardinals, have strongly questioned his approach. A 2022 Pew Research Center analysis showed that most American Catholics, or 62%, believe that whether a person is a man or a woman is determined by the sex assigned at birth, while only a minority, 37%, said it can change.
Following his recent statement on transgender participation in church sacraments, GLAAD and DignityUSA said the tone of Francis’ inclusion would send a message to political and cultural leaders to end the persecution, exclusion and discrimination of transgender people.
For the transgender community in Torvajanica, this was a more personal message, a tangible sign that the Pope knew them, had heard their stories and wanted to let them know that they were part of his Church.
Carla Segovia, a 46-year-old Argentine sex worker, said that for transgender women like her, being a godmother is the closest thing she will ever get to having a child of her own. She said the new standards made her feel more comfortable about one day fully returning to the faith she was baptized into but turned away from after becoming trans.
“This rule from Pope Francis brings me closer to finding that absolute serenity,” which she feels is necessary to fully reconcile with faith, she said.
Claudia Vitoria Salas, a 55-year-old transgender seamstress and house cleaner, said she already served as godmother to three of her nieces and nephews at her home in Jujuy, in northern Argentina. She choked up when she remembered that her earnings from her previous work as a prostitute allowed her children to go to school.
She said in a cracking voice: “Being a godfather is a big responsibility. It takes the place of a mother or father. It is not a game.” “You have to choose the right people who will be responsible and able, when the parents are not around, to send the children to school and provide them with food and clothes.”
Francis’s unusual friendship with the transgender community began Torvaianica During the strict lockdown imposed by Italy due to the Corona viruswhen one, then two, then more sex workers showed up at Pastor Andrea Conoccia’s church in the city’s main square asking for food, because they had lost all sources of income.
Over time, Canocchia got to know the women and as the pandemic and economic hardship continued, he encouraged them to write to Francis to ask for what they needed. One night they sat around a table and wrote their letters.
“The first four letter pages were soaked in tears,” he recalls. “Why? Because they told me: Father, I am ashamed, and I cannot tell the Pope what I did and how I lived.”
But they did, and the first aid arrived from the Pope’s chief alms-giver, who then accompanied the women to get their Covid-19 vaccines a year later. At the time of the pandemic, many women were not legally allowed to live in Italy and had no opportunity to do so Access to the vaccine.
Eventually, Francis asked to meet them.
Salas was among those to receive the vaccine at the Vatican, then joined a group of torvaianica to thank Francis at his general audience on April 27, 2022. She brought the Argentine pontiff a plate of homemade chicken empanadas, a traditional comfort food they share. homeland.
Showing a photo of the exchange on her phone, Salas recalled what Francis said next: “He asked the man receiving the gifts to leave them with him, saying, ‘I’m taking them to lunch.’” “At that moment I started crying.”
For Canocchia, Francis’ response to Salas and others profoundly changed him as a priest, teaching him the value of listening and paying attention to the lives and difficulties of his flock, especially those living on the margins.
For women, this is just an acknowledgment of their importance.
“At least they remember us that we are on the ground and not abandoned and left to the mercy of the wind,” Torres Lopez said.