18 August 2020, The Tablet

Pope sends message of support to nun working with trans people

Sister Mónica Astorga, a Carmelite, has ministered to trans women in Argentina for 14 years.

Pope sends message of support to nun working with trans people

Sister Monica Astorga at the opening of her new housing complex for trans women, 16 August 2020

Pope Francis has given his blessing to the work of an Argentine nun engaged in supporting marginalised transgender people, and expressed his support for her work.

According to local media, the Pope responded to an email in which the religious, Mónica Astorga, informed him of her latest project – the establishment of a housing complex specifically for trans women. The Pope, in a handwritten message, told Cremona: “God, who did not go to seminary or study theology, will repay you abundantly.”

The Holy Father added that he would “pray for you and your girls” and asked that Astorga pray for him in return. His note concludes: “May Jesus bless you and may the holy virgin take care of you. Fraternally, Francisco”.

The note is not the first message that Pope Francis has sent to the nun, whom he knew when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. According to local media reports, three years ago, the Holy Father told Astorga: “I have you and the convent close to my heart, as well as the people with whom you work.” In that note, the Pope compared Astorga’s work with trans people to Christ’s ministry towards people with leprosy, another marginalised group. 

Astorga, superior of the Convent of Discalced Carmelites of Neuquén, is well known in Argentina for her ministry towards trans women, whom Astorga helps escape addiction or prostitution, to find jobs, housing or training. Astorga began this work in 2006, and, according to her, received the personal blessing of Jorge Bergolio when he was her local Bishop in 2009. 

Argentina was one of the first countries in the world to pass comprehensive legislation on the civil rights of trans people, but significant problems of violence and poverty remain. According to the World Health Organisation, the life expectancy for trans people in Argentina is 35, less than half the national average. Prejudice and discrimination against trans people is common in parts of Argentina, which contributes to existing problems of economic and social marginalisation. Significant numbers of Argentinian transwomen find themselves trapped in the sex trade, and a series of murders of trans people in 2015 led to a nation-wide protest movement.

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