Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Pope Francis Hosts Transgender Women for Vatican Luncheon


Pope Francis welcomed a group of transgender women, with whom he has formed an ongoing relationship, to a luncheon at the Vatican last week marking the church’s World Day of the Poor.

Some 1,200 people who live in poverty or are unhoused joined Francis for a meal inside the papal audience hall, at tables reminiscent of the Synod assembly held in that same space last month. 

The Associated Press reported on one notable group of luncheon guests: trans women from just outside Rome, many of whom are sex workers and migrants from Latin America:

“Thanks to the local parish priest [in the Italian town of Torvaianica], these women now make monthly visits to Francis’ Wednesday general audiences, where they are given VIP seats. On any given day, they receive handouts of medicine, cash and shampoo. When COVID-19 struck, the Vatican bussed them into its health facility so they could be vaccinated ahead of most Italians. . .

“‘Before, the church was closed to us. They didn’t see us as normal people, they saw us as the devil,’ said Andrea Paola Torres Lopez, a Colombian transgender woman known as Consuelo, whose kitchen is decorated with pictures of Jesus. ‘Then Pope Francis arrived and the doors of the church opened for us.’

Part of what Pope Francis to open those doors was a recent guidance from the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith which said trans people, including those who medically transition, could be accepted for baptism and serve as godparents. 

The guidance, known formally as a responsum ad dubia, was praised by LGBTQ+ advocates. The trans women of Torvaianica were likewise grateful:

“Carla Segovia, a 46-year-old Argentine sex worker, said for transgender women like herself, being a godparent is the closest thing she will ever get to having a child of her own. She said that the new norms made her feel more comfortable about maybe one day returning fully to the faith that she was baptized in but fell away from after coming out as trans.

“‘This norm from Pope Francis brings me closer to finding that absolute serenity,’ she said, which she feels is necessary to be fully reconciled with the faith.

“Claudia Vittoria Salas, a 55-year-old transgender tailor and house cleaner, said she had already served as a godparent to three of her nieces and nephews back home in Jujuy, in northern Argentina. She choked up as she recalled that her earnings from her former work as a prostitute put her godchildren through school.”

The relationship between Pope Francis and this group of trans women dates to 2020, when they sought help from Fr. Andrea Conocchia because they could not work due to the pandemic. 

As Bondings 2.0 reported previously, Conocchia and the women asked the pope for assistance which the town’s small parish could not fully provide. Per AP:

“‘The pages of the letters of the first four were bathed in tears,’ he recalled. ‘Why? Because they told me ‘Father, I’m ashamed, I can’t tell the pope what I have done, how I have lived.’’

“But they did, and the first assistance arrived from the pope’s chief almsgiver, who then accompanied the women for their COVID-19 vaccines a year later. At the time of the pandemic, many of the women weren’t legally allowed to live in Italy and had no access to the vaccine.”

Reuters posted a video interview with several of the women, who talk movingly about Pope Francis’ impact on their lives, which is available here.

In related news, the pope commented on how LGBTQ+ issues arose at the Synod assembly last month. An interviewer with Italian broadcaster RAI asked Francis if he was satisfied how gay people were discussed, to which the pontiff replied:

“‘When I say “everyone, everyone, everyone,” it’s the people. The church receives people, everyone, and does not ask what you are. Then, within the church, everyone grows and matures in their Christian belonging. It’s true that today it’s a bit fashionable to talk about this. The church receives everyone.'”

Last week’s luncheon for the World Day of the Poor shows how Pope Francis’ desire for a welcoming church goes beyond words. And his actions to include everyone do have a meaningful impact, as the testimonies of the trans women in Torvaianica show. As one of the women, Andrea Paola Torres Lopez, said:

“‘At least they remember us, that we’re on Earth and we haven’t been abandoned and left to the mercy of the wind.'”