‘I send the Pope a big kiss!’: Transgender sex worker thanks Pope Francis for making her ‘feel a bit more human’ during lunch in Italy – after Vatican changed baptism rules for trans people
- Transgender women from small town have unlikely relationship with Francis
- Relationship is part of wider effort by Francis to make Church more inclusive
- Catholic Church recently allowed transgender people to be godparents
Pope Francis hosted a group of transgender women for lunch in the Vatican on Sunday, as he deepened an unlikely relationship that has come to underline his drive to make the Catholic Church more inclusive for a small transgender community.
On Sunday, a small group of transgender women from Torvaianica, south of Rome, attended a lunch hosted by the Pope on the Church’s World Day of the Poor. They were welcomed along with around 1,200 poor and homeless people.
Their invitation to the Vatican would have been unthinkable prior to Pope Francis’ papacy. Their invitation grew out of a relationship with a local Catholic priest who had offered assistance to transgender women in Torvaianica during the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘This is a fantastic opportunity for us transexuals,’ said Claudia Victoria Salas, 55, a transgender tailor and cleaner originally from Argentina who was seated opposite Francis. ‘I send the Pope a big kiss!’
Since Francis became Pope in 2013, the Argentine has sought to take the Church in a more inclusive direction. In January, Francis called on Catholic bishops to welcome LGBTQ+ people and criticised laws criminalising homosexuality.
Pope Francis hosted some 1,200 poor and homeless people at the Vatican for the Church’s World Day of the Poor. Among them included a group of transgender women from near Rome
The invitation to the Vatican would have been unthinkable before Pope Francis became Pope in 2013
Priest Andrea Conocchia, from Torvaianica, with three transgender women that he has helped, from left, Andrea Paola Torres Lopez, also known as Consuelo, Carla Segovia and Claudia Vittoria Salas
The doctrinal office in the Vatican recently reversed absolute bans on transgender people serving as godparents and on same-sex blessings. Proclamations have updated the Catholic Church’s stance so as to permit transgender people to be baptised, be godparents, and act as witnesses to religious weddings.
The Pope has had to walk a fine line in his effort to make the Church more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. His inclusive stance has deepened divides with conservative Catholics, with some senior figures questioning the approach.
For the transgender women of Torvaianica, such doctrinal disputes in the Vatican felt far away until Covid-19 when they began seeking help from a local priest that was supporting those that had fallen on hard times.
Father Andrea Conocchia, of the Blessed Immaculate Virgin parish in the beach-town, offered help to the women. He said that he encouraged them to write to Francis to tell them of their hardship.
What followed was not only funds, but also offers for vaccinations in the Vatican and a meeting with Pope Francis for the transgender women of Torvaianica. They now make regular monthly visits to Francis’ Wednesday general audience, where they are given VIP seating.
The women found help and hope through a remarkable relationship with the pontiff and the local parish priest Andrea Conocchia, right
Carla Segovia said that Pope Francis’ inclusivity drive was making ‘transgenders in Italy feel a bit more human’
Priest Andrea Conocchia, on the beach of Torvaianica, has helped local transgender women find assistance from the Vatican
They said that their latest invitation to the World Day of the Poor was part of this effort to make the Catholic Church’s more welcoming.
‘We transgenders in Italy feel a bit more human because of the fact that Pope Francis brings us closer to the Church,’ said Carla Segovia, 46, a sex worker speaking before the trip. ‘Because we need love,’ she added.
Segovia explained that the changes that enable transgender women to be godparents were important. Being a godparent was the closest that she would get to being a parent of her own, she told, and added that such measures would help her feel more comfortable about returning fully to her Catholicism.
‘The norm from Pope Francis brings me closer to finding that absolute serenity,’ she said, adding that she believed that it was needed to fully reconcile with Catholicism.
Another transgender woman from Torvaianica agreed.
‘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 transgender woman from Colombia who is also known as Consuelo. ‘Then Pope Francis arrived and the doors of the Church opened for us.’
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