Pope Francis hasn’t always had encouraging words about transgender people, but the Spanish trans man who met with Francis in January says he received nothing but kindness and affirmation from the pontiff.
“He is ‘la bondad personificada,’” Diego Neria Lejárraga (pictured above) said of the pope in a new interview with People, using a Spanish term meaning “kindness personified.”
Neria, a lifelong Catholic, had written to the pope last year, saying that he had become estranged from the church ever since his gender transition in 2007. “I explained how I felt pushed out to the margins of society by the faithful in my local parish of Plasencia after I underwent a sex change,” he told People of the letter. “I was even called the ‘hija del diablo’ [daughter of the devil] by a priest in broad daylight.”
He received a surprise phone call from the pope in December, in which Francis said he’d been moved by Neria’s story. They then arranged a meeting, with Neria and his fiancée, Macarena, going to Rome in January. “He welcomed us with an enormous smile and kind, kind eyes,” Neria said, and the visit lasted over an hour.
The Spaniard said he wished to keep some details of the meeting private, but noted, “In the presence of Pope Francis you feel loved, respected, embraced. I admired him before visiting, but that was nothing compared to the devotion I have for him now.”
The People article doesn’t address the pope’s criticism of the concept of gender mutability or a recent Vatican ruling that transgender people cannot be godparents. Instead, it focuses on how the visit with Pope Francis helped Neria overcome the pain of rejection.
“I think that God had a moment of forgetfulness with me, but Francis … he fixed it,” Neria told the magazine. “He has become a father to me in the broadest sense of the word. He gave me a safe place where I was able to cry and leave my doubts, pain, and suffering behind. I left them all there with the pope.”
Pope Francis has invited Neria to visit again, and he hopes to do so soon. Neria is also writing a book about his experiences and advising others on how to overcome negative feelings.
“I just pass on the kindness that Pope Francis showed me,” he told People. “He has changed my life, first in a spiritual sense and subsequently in all other aspects. … Today, my soul is in peace, thanks to Pope Francis.”