Transgender women from the run-down beach town of Torvaianica, located about 35 kilometers south of the Vatican, were invited to a special lunch with Pope Francis on the Church’s World Day of the poor.
Claudia Victoria Salas, 55, and Carla Segovia, 46, both originally from Argentina, joined a diverse group of around 1,200 poor and homeless individuals for this unique gathering.
The unexpected invitation came as part of a broader outreach effort initiated during the COVID-19 lockdown. Father Andrea Conocchia, the pastor of the Blessed Immaculate Virgin parish in Torvaianica, played a crucial role in supporting the transgender community during the pandemic by providing food and other assistance. Facing resource challenges, Father Conocchia sought help from the cardinal overseeing the pope’s charities, who not only sent financial aid but also facilitated the opportunity for the transgender individuals to meet Pope Francis.
The encounter took place in the Vatican auditorium, where the pontiff conducts general audiences in winter. To their astonishment, Claudia Victoria Salas, a former sex worker, found herself seated directly across from Pope Francis at the main table.
“We transgenders here in Italy feel a bit more human because the fact that Pope Francis brings us closer to the Church is a beautiful thing,” expressed Carla Segovia, who also has a background in sex work, on the windy shores of Torvaianica. “Because we need some love,” she added, highlighting the positive impact of the gesture on the transgender community.
The Vatican’s recent doctrinal statement was significant in this context, affirming that transgender individuals are eligible to be godparents at Roman Catholic baptisms, act as witnesses at religious weddings, and receive baptism themselves. This move was met with a mix of reactions, with LGBT rights advocates applauding the inclusivity and some conservatives expressing concerns about potential shifts in the Church’s stance on sexual morality.
Pope Francis, 86, has consistently worked towards making the Church more welcoming to the LGBT community without altering fundamental teachings. The Church maintains its position that same-sex attraction is not inherently sinful, while same-sex acts are.
Father Conocchia’s efforts to support the transgender community during the height of the pandemic earned him admiration from those he assisted. “For us, he is our saint,” shared Salas, underscoring the positive impact of the Church’s involvement in their lives.
On the day of the special lunch, Father Conocchia arrived at the Vatican with approximately 50 individuals from his parish, including transgender people of both foreign and Italian origins. The transgender participants expressed their gratitude, with Segovia describing the experience as a “fantastic opportunity for all of us transsexuals” as she entered the auditorium, sending the pope a heartfelt kiss.