A Catholic nun in India has a dignified vision for the transgender community that all started on a bus.
While traveling in Assam, a state located in northeastern India, Sr. Prema Chowallur, a member of the Congregation of Sisters of the Cross, noticed a woman sitting alone on the crowded local transportation. Prema sat down where nobody else would and soon realized her seatmate was a trans woman. In their conversation, the trans woman described how her family had excluded her and she had ended up in a slum.
After this encounter, Prema came to understand the isolation, poverty, and loneliness that can sometimes comes with being transgender. She joined the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) and Indian Network of Rainbow Catholics (INRC) to become a greater ally to people from LGBTQ communities in their struggles for human dignity.
Prema sees her Catholic faith as a main driver of her ministry to trans people. East Mojo reported the following:
“An unrelenting supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community, Sister Prema Chowallur has been a part of various initiatives to help the queer community despite the common notion of homosexuality being considered to be against the order of nature by the Church. While on one hand, as per popular Christian beliefs, one is said to be born either male or female, (even hermaphrodites [sic] who happen to manifest characteristics of both genders are considered either males or females biologically), Sister Prema has made it her life’s mission to serve people who have been rejected or marginalised by our society.
“On being asked if and whether her faith ever stood in the way of her support for the Queer community, Sister Prema replied saying, ‘Pope Francis asked the families very clearly to accept and embrace the LGBTQ+ because they are God’s children. The church holds on to its traditional moral concept on this issue. Following the teachings of Jesus, the church always emphasised to go to the people who are rejected and marginalized from the society and work for their development, to lead a dignified life as human beings,’ she added.”
Prema has served as a mother figure to the trans community of Assam: many refer to her as “Maa.” However, it has become increasingly difficult to carry out her ministry, as there are more requests than space to offer in the Rainbow Home of the Seven Sisters. For this reason, she has a vision for the future:
“‘I want them to learn whatever it is that interests them, whether they have interest in being a beautician, a designer, in making ornaments, anything. If they have a degree, then I want to help them to find suitable jobs. The Shelter Home cannot be a place for them to stay all their lives. It will merely be a place where they heal and prepare themselves to stand on their own feet when they go back out to face the world,’ she said firmly…
“She further aims to raise awareness amongst an entire generation of Transgender persons, making them aware of their rights and to get independent while opting for better career prospects and aiming for a higher standard of living.”
Sr. Prema’s work in Assam is nothing short of life-saving. She serves as a model for other Catholic religious leaders as to how to welcome the LGBTQ community with love, faith, and warmth. In her commitment to human dignity, it is possible to imagine an inclusive and global Catholic LGBTQ ministry.
—Barbara Anne Kozee, August 2, 2021