Catholic ministers in India recently formed a group to offer pastoral care for transgender people, reported ucanews.com, and they are already making an impact by helping to found a new school for trans students.
Clergy, religious, and lay people in the Indian state of Kerala have joined together to establish “one of the few outreach programs for the transgender community by the institutional church in India.”
According to Fr. Paul Madassey, head of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council’s Pro-Life Support ministry, under which the transgender initiative is carried out, transgender people in the state are particularly vulnerable. Sex traffickers in northern India prey on trans people who are discriminated against and economically disadvantaged.
Fr. Madassey explained that the transgender initiative had been inspired by Pope Francis’ call to accompany the LGBT community and that “the whole church has a big role to play” in providing such pastoral support.
One project by the group has been helping found a new school inclusive of trans people called Sahaj International School. It opened last week with ten students seeking their high school certificate. Catch News explained further:
“Led by six [transgender people] from TransIndia Foundation with activist Vijayaraja Mallika at the helm, the school promises to provide residential facilities for a short period, free textbooks, gender neutral toilets, a meal for those in need, and tuition to pass Class X and XII. . .
“Mallika says that zir [a gender-neutral possessive pronoun] efforts are focused on introducing inclusive education. . .[Mallika said] ‘We are providing them a safe space for security and sustainable education.'”
The need for such a school is immense. Of the estimated 25,000 trans people in the state of Kerala, 57% did not complete a high school education, according to Mallika. There are also issues of social discrimination, family rejection, and derogatory language.
Mallika, who previously worked on transgender pastoral care with the Archdiocese of Bombay, said the church has been “very supportive” and that “[r]eligion plays an important role in social and behavioral change at the grass-roots level.” The church’s role in the school was instrumental, according to ucanews.com:
“In mid-December, Sisters of the Congregation of Mother Carmel offered their buildings to form an exclusive school for dropouts among transgender people, considered the first of its kind in the country.
“The nuns offered their venue after at least 50 building owners declined to let out their buildings, indicating the discrimination prevalent in the society, says Father Madassey.”
This work in Kerala comes quickly after Caritas India, the official development agency of the nation’s bishops, announced it would be initiating more transgender-inclusive policies and outreach programs. Though Caritas India’s approach is not perfect, the announcement of the program is a key moment for the global church.
The Catholic Church in India is widely respected for charitable efforts, despite Catholics being less than two percent of the nation’s population. The church has been a positive voice for LGBT communities, too, as when Bombay’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias twice spoke against the criminalization of gay people. In an exclusive interview with Bondings 2.0, Gracias said that the church embraces, wants, and needs LGBT people. Virginia Saldanha, an Indian lay woman who formerly led the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said the 2015 Synod on the Family needed to bring LGBT “in from the cold.”
Earlier this week, I suggested that findings from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were a helpful pastoral examination for all Catholics about our awareness of and advocacy for trans equality in the church. These efforts in India are helpful models, too, for how the church can and should be responding to the urgent pastoral needs of trans communities — and how we can become more receptive of the gifts and contributions which trans Catholics are making to our church’s mission.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 5, 2017