Praise is being heaped upon Pope Francis for his support earlier this month of transgender women who have suffered economically because of the coronavirus pandemic, while the pope’s personal almoner has said such support is “ordinary work for the Church.”
Father Andrea Conocchia, pastor of Blessed Virgin of the Immaculate parish in Torvaianica, Italy, transformed his parish into a refuge for a group of transgender women, some of whom are sex workers and many of whom were from Latin America. The priest requested Pope Francis’s assistance due to the parish’s already limited funds caused by the pandemic. In response, Pope Francis dispatched Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the Pope’s personal almoner, to dispense financial support to this parish located outside of Rome.
As reported in America, Father Conocchia expressed his gratitude for the pope’s pastoral response to the plight of these transgender women:
“‘What a great answer by the Holy Father!…It gave us the chance to give concrete help for their needs.’”
Father Conocchia also articulated his spiritual reflections as he experienced the suffering of this local transgender community in a phone interview conducted by Religion News Service:
“‘I would say that we treat these [transgender] people as if they were invisible…If the coronavirus had never happened, I might have never met them in person, they might have never asked for help in a church and maybe we wouldn’t have had the chance to dialogue, know each other and share.’”
Equally important, Father Conocchia framed the marginalization of these transgender women as a public health and human rights issue, rather than one fixated on sexuality:
“‘This is a health emergency, but also a social emergency…Let’s try not to turn it into a human emergency. We must remain human.'”
Father Conocchia’s compassionate response mirrors Jesus’s loving ministry, focused on tackling social and political barriers rather than denigrating a group of people based on their gender identity or profession.
Cardinal Krajewski said he was surprised that his ministry has received extensive news coverage given that outreach to marginalized communities is central to the mission of Catholic social teaching. According to The Advocate, the cardinal said:
“‘I don’t understand why this is getting so much attention…This is ordinary work for the Church, it’s normal. This is how the Church is a field hospital.’”
Cardinal Krajewski’s ministry has garnered him the nickname ‘Cardinal Robin Hood’ because this is not the first time he has responded to the plight of migrants. As reported by The Tablet, Cardinal Krajewski helped get the electricity turned back on at a migrant shelter last year after service had been severed because of a past due invoice of 300,000 euro.
The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, an international organization that advocates for LGBTQ equality in the church and society, also expressed its appreciation for Pope Francis:
“We rejoice at Pope Francis’ action in helping a group of transgender women, because the Gospel is about examples of love beyond words.”
GNRC Co-Chair Christopher Vella explained:
“Many LGBTI people around the world live hand to mouth, and pandemic restrictions are limiting their ability to support themselves even further. This is a matter of survival.”
Transgender sex workers, especially those who are migrants, face enormous amounts of discrimination, harassment, and abuse in their everyday lives. Social exclusion is a particularly pernicious form of prejudice faced by this population because of their gender identity and occupation. Yet the actions and responses of Pope Francis, Father Conocchia, and Cardinal Krajewski contain no social stigma or theological judgments, but a tender embrace firmly rooted in the dignity of God’s creation.
These reflections are beautifully grounded in the compassionate and loving paradigm of Jesus and his ministry, a ministry that was not concerned with class, profession, or status, but was focused on the wider structural forces that venerated some groups at the expense of others.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, May 16, 2020