Pope Francis granted a private audience to a transgender Spaniard in the Vatican on January 24 after the latter wrote asking him for support, a regional newspaper from Extremadura reported.
Sources close to the bishop of Plasencia (Cáceres) confirmed that Diego Neria Lejárraga, 48, was invited to go see the Catholic pontiff after sending him a letter in which he detailed the social rejection he was experiencing back home.
No images have been released of the meeting, which was held at the pope’s residence in Santa Marta.
Neria Lejárraga described himself as a practicing Catholic who felt rejected by society in Plasencia, a town of around 40,000, where he returned after his sex change.
He was born female but always felt like a man. “My prison was my own body,” he told the newspaper Hoy.
You are the devil’s daughter,” he says a priest once snapped at him in the street
As a child, he would write letters to the Three Wise Men, the traditional Christmas gift-givers in Spain, asking to be turned into a boy.
His family always supported him, but his mother asked him not to undergo a gender change until after her death, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
At the age of 40, one year after his mother’s death, Neria Lejárraga moved to Madrid to undergo a series of surgical procedures that would turn his body into a man’s.
Upon his return to Plasencia, he found that his physical changes caused him to be rejected by some of the people around him.
But what hurt him the most was the attitude displayed by other members of the Catholic faith.
“How dare you walk in here, in your condition? You are not worthy,” he was told by certain individuals when he attempted to return to his parish.
“You are the devil’s daughter,” a priest once snapped at him in the middle of the street.
Neria Lejárraga would lock himself up at home to cry. Then, one day, he decided to write to the pope in Rome, according to Hoy.
“Never before would I have dared [ask a pope for help], but with Francis I felt that I could. After listening to many of his speeches, I felt that he would listen to me,” he said.
He sent the letter through the bishop of Plasencia, Amadeo Rodríguez Magro, whom he described as a source of support and consolation.
If I had been given a choice, I would not have chosen to live this life”
Diego Neria Lejárraga
After receiving the letter, Pope Francis personally telephoned Neria Lejárraga late last year. Although the caller’s ID was not displayed, and Diego typically ignores such calls, he decided to take this one.
“This is Pope Francis,” said the voice at the other end of the line. The pontiff told Neria Lejárraga that his letter had “touched my soul” and that he wanted to meet him. The date was later set for January 24.
Neria Lejárraga went to see the pope in the company of his fiancée. During the get-together, he asked Francis whether there was “any place for me” in the house of God. The pope responded with a hug.
“If I had been given a choice, I would not have chosen to live this life,” said Diego, according to Hoy.
Pope Francis made his own position on sexual orientation clear last year when he answered a reporter’s question with: “Who am I to judge them?”
This is not the first time that the pope has made a personal call to someone in Spain. In January of last year he phoned a group of Argentinean nuns living in an Andalusian convent, and left a message on their answering machine when nobody picked up.
In August he also called a young man from Granada who had written to him to detail the sexual abuses he had suffered at the hands of several local priests.