In Argentina, the Catholic Church has been expanding its pastoral outreach to the transgender community by opening shelters to provide living space for those who have been excluded from family and from society.
El Pais reports that several priests known for working in the poorest communities have increasingly come into contact with more trans people who are living on the margins. The desperate conditions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have brought more and more trans people to the priests’ doors. In addition to answering their human needs, the priests bless trans people and allow them to receive communion.
Father Ficundo Ribero, a priest who works in the slums, clarifies how they minister to the trans community there:
“More than accepting them, I would say we receive them…We accept something that is given to us, as if there were no other choice. On the other hand, to receive is to take a position. It seems that, little by little, once again ideas that are linked to the purest gospel are being given attention. In the sacred scripture, Jesus appears with friends that nobody else wanted. Prostitutes, tax collectors – the gangsters of the time – lepers; in general, people who were marginalized by society.”
One of the shelters that receives trans people is Animí, which is part of a Catholic ministry called Hogar de Cristo (Home of Christ). Animí, an eight-room house with communal spaces and a theater, provides a safe landing for trans women who struggle with addiction and abuse. For the residents, Animí hosts activities, such as gardening. They also offer work, legal advice, and therapy.
One long-time resident, a Peruvian trans woman named Angie, shared her story:
“Almost a year ago I had a stroke, I was hospitalized for a year, but now I feel happy to be in a beautiful home. I left the street behind, all ugly things that happened there. I took paco [crack] with a gang that brought me over from Peru. I haven’t touched that crap for almost 10 years.”
Angie hangs a rosary in her closet and attributes her Catholic upbringing to her mother. “I have always believed in God,” she said. Angie takes communion at Mass, despite strange looks she gets. She reflected, “This is enough for me, it’s just something that takes time. They will understand one day.”
A former shelter resident, Karen, also came from Peru when she was 22 years old and had been using cocaine, drinking alcohol, and eventually smoking crack. When she had a stroke, she was in intensive care for seven months then went to Animí. She recounts, “When I came to Animí they helped me when I could barely move. They helped me with antiretrovirals, with food on weekends, with a room.”
Karen said her relationship with the Catholic Church is positive:
“I believe very strongly in God because I was reborn thanks to Him, though I was already going to Mass before that. My parents are evangelical. In the Peruvian church there is a lot of discrimination, but even during my relapses I always believed.”
There are many success stories coming out of Argentinian Catholic ministries for trans people. Argentine nun Sr. Monica Astorga has helped at scores of trans women, and she has received direct support from Pope Francis for her work. In 2014, Fr. Sergio Lamberti blessed the union of José Leonardo Coria and Luisa Lucía Paz, leader of the Association of Transvestites, Transsexuals and Transgender of Argentina (ATTTA) in a Catholic ritual ceremony. This event led to establishing trans weddings in the country.
Gabriela, the manager at Casa Animí, reflected on their work and the success stories of residents, saying:
This is the raw gospel from the grassroots, Jesus welcoming the marginalized, their cries, providing answers, and integrating them into society.”
Argentine priests, nuns, and lay ministers who emulate Jesus by creating space for marginalized trans people provide an example for the church worldwide. The rest of the church should take note of their successes and do better by our trans siblings. Most importantly, the trans community are an example of Christian faith, as they persevere and hold onto faith in the God who welcomes all, in spite of their own marginalization by the church and wider society.
For a photo gallery of Argentinian Catholics’ efforts on behalf of trans people related to this story in El Pais, click here.
–Beth Mueller Stewart, New Ways Ministry, May 25, 2021