This past Saturday afternoon, Pope Francis met with Diego Neria Lejárraga, a 48-year-old Spaniard who was born a girl but underwent a sex change operation eight years ago.
The Pope received Neria at the papal residence of Santa Marta in Vatican City in a strictly private meeting.
“I never would have dared before, but with Pope Francis I did; after listening to his words, I felt that he would listen to me,” said Neria.
According to reports, Neria’s mother had begged him not to alter his body as long as she lived, but when she passed away, Diego contacted a plastic surgeon who carried out the “gender reassignment.”
Last year, Diego decided to write to Pope Francis and request an audience with him. In his letter, Neria asked the Pope why the Church rejects him and why he can’t be a good, practicing Catholic. He also expressed why he is afraid to receive Holy Communion and why he does not feel like a part of the flock.
According to Neria, shortly before 2:30pm on December 8, while caring for his sick father at home, he received a call. “There was no caller ID,” he said. “The truth is that I’m not sure why I picked up the phone, because I never answer those calls,” he said.
“This is Pope Francis,” the caller said. Neria says that he did not know what was happening until the Pope said that he had read his letter and had been moved by it. The Pope said he wanted to see him, and said he would call later to fix the date of the meeting. He did so a few days later, and the meeting was set for January 24.
On Saturday, Pope Francis received him, along with his girlfriend, and embraced him.
“What happened in that meeting and what was said there is something that is only for those of us who were present,” said Neria. “Because it is something that I wish to live in the strictest intimacy,” he said.
Saturday’s meeting is in tune with a message Pope Francis has been preaching since the beginning of his pontificate: be firm on principle, but open to every human person with all their complications. Francis has called the Church a “field hospital,” and its first order of business is to heal the wounded.
In an interview in 2013, Francis said:
God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life.
This might explain why on the one hand, Pope Francis can say that he believes gender ideology to be “demonic,” and on the other hand, he can embrace any person, regardless of their personal struggles, weaknesses, or sins.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.