Indian Sisters Launch Ministry with Transgender Community

Sr. Roseline Jose, left, and Sr. Saly Joseph, center, with members of the local trans community

A congregation of nuns in India has worked to create a trusting bond with the local transgender community, which lacks opportunities due to social marginalization.

Two nuns and a trans woman were waiting at a bus stop together in southern India, a coincidental act of fate that soon blossomed into an abundant partnership. Ranjitha, the trans woman, reached out to Srs. Saly Joseph and Roselin Jose to request the sisters come and pray for her mother. Ranjitha added that her mother was Catholic and very sick at the time. Hesitant at first, the nuns accepted Ranjitha’s request. According to Global Sisters Report:

“[Rajintha’s] mother, who wore a rosary, was in bed in the small one-room house in Frazer Town, a suburb of Bengaluru city. The house looked clean with walls painted yellow. A picture of Mary and Jesus hung on the wall over the woman’s bed with sandalwood sticks burning in front. ‘We prayed for her mother while Ranjitha stood with folded hands in deep veneration,’ Joseph said.” 

Commonly, members of the trans community in that area live together, supporting one another in a society that strongly ignores their rights. However, Ranjitha was staying with her mother at the time due to her mother’s poor health. Noticing Joseph and Jose’s curiosity regarding the living situations of others in the transgender community in the nearby area, Ranjitha invited the sisters to one of the common living spaces. 

The living communities trans individuals had built for themselves are safe spaces; new visitors are often met with skepticism. Despite Joseph and Jose being met with some questioning looks when they entered the space, the sisters were able to start building relationships with some of the women living there. This led to the formation of a special ministry within their congregation, the Sisters of Our Lady of Fatima, that specializes in supporting the social success of trans individuals. Sr. Joseph said it was part of answering Pope Francis’ call to minister with LGBTQ+ people.

Global Sisters Report recounts Joseph and Jose’s reflection on their work:

“As part of their ministry, they conduct vocational skills training to shift transgender people from sex work and begging to alternate jobs. Some sell vegetables or manage kiosks and tea stalls after attending the training programs. Some are being trained in driving, tailoring and handicrafts.”

For outsiders to gain the trust of some in the Indian transgender community can be difficult. Rampant discrimination has led members of the community rightfully to keep their guard up. However, through care and compassion, Sr.s Joseph and Jose were able to enter the safe spaces cultivated by the transgender community and extend welcoming arms. Now, their vocational training program has nearly 200 participants.

The nuns’ success has led several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to support the Fatima nuns’ efforts. Dream India Network, for example, is an NGO dedicated to supporting marginalized communities in India. After the Covid-19 pandemic first hit, they wanted to distribute food kits to communities that lack access to nutritional needs, such as the transgender community. In an effort to support Dream India Network’s goal, Joseph and Jose served as a liaison between the NGO and the local transgender community by inviting them both to the convent. Over 100 transgender individuals attended the first meeting, most of whom came through the initiative administered by the Fatima nuns.

Bengaluru (the city in south India where the nuns of Fatima reside, formerly known as Bangalore) is thought of as “the Vatican of the East” because it houses most of India’s vowed religious congregations. Claretian Fr. George Kannanthanam, a social worker, said that more congregations should be mirroring the successes of the nuns, especially in that city where so many religious live.

Anushah Sajwani (she/her), New Ways Ministry, February 11, 2023

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