By Oriana Boselli, Antonio Denti and Philip Pullella
TORVAIANICA, Italy/VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The run-down beach town of Torvaianica lies about 35 km (20 miles) south of the Vatican.
But for transgender women living there, it seemed light years away until a rapprochement with the Catholic Church that began during the COVID-19 lockdown and led to an invitation to lunch with Pope Francis on Sunday.
Claudia Victoria Salas, 55, and Carla Segovia, 46, both Argentinians, were among a group of transgender people among about 1,200 poor and homeless people who attended the church’s World Day of the Poor luncheon.
To her surprise, Salas, a former sex worker, sat across from the pope, who is also Argentine, at the main table in the auditorium where the pope holds his winter general audiences.
“We transgender people here in Italy feel a little more human because the fact that Pope Francis is bringing us closer to the church is a beautiful thing,” Carla Segovia, 46, a sex worker, said earlier this week on the lonely, windy beach of Torvaianica .
“Because we need some love,” she said.
Last week, the Vatican’s Faith Office issued a statement saying transgender people can receive godparents at Roman Catholic baptisms, witnesses at religious ceremonies and even receive baptism.
LGBT rights advocates in the church welcomed the move, while conservatives condemned it and accused Francis of sending confusing signals to believers about sexual morality.
Francis, 86, has sought to make the church more welcoming to the LGBT community without changing church teachings. Among other things, he said that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but same-sex acts are.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Andrea Conocchia, the parish priest of Blessed Immaculate Virgin Parish in Torvaianica, helped the transgender community with food and other assistance.
Since many people no longer had an income, the parish’s resources were scarce at this time. So Conocchia asked the cardinal, who runs the pope’s charities, for help.
In addition to sending them money, the cardinal arranged for them to get vaccinated at the Vatican and meet the pope.
“For us, he is our saint,” Salas said of Conocchia last week.
On Sunday, Conocchia arrived at the Vatican on a bus with about 50 poor people from his parish, including transgender people, both foreign-born and Italian.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for all of us transsexuals,” Segovia said as she entered the audience. “I send the Pope a big kiss.”
(Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Barbara Lewis)
Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.