Diego’s phone rang, said the voice in Spanish ‘I am Pope Francis’.
“Our Father in heaven; hallowed be your name …”
How well we know these words – perhaps too well as they slip off our tongues like a perfunctory “How are you going?”
So what are we really saying as “Thy Kingdom come” passes over our lips for the umpteenth time? What does the Lord’s Prayer look and taste like when it lands on our streets?
A story. 1
Pope Francis first met Diego Neria Lejárraga in 2014.
Diego is Spanish. He is a practising Catholic. Diego was also born a woman, and for many years endured what he described as “living in a body that felt like a prison [and] didn’t correspond with what my soul felt.”
Diego resolved not to do anything about his transgender predicament while his mother was still alive. But a year after her death, when he was 40, he began the harrowing process of a sex change – of transitioning from female to male. Diego said that while his bishop was always supportive and good to him, this was not the case with his local parish. There he had even been labelled “the daughter of the devil,” and it was made pretty clear that he should stop going to Communion after his surgery. Thus, pushed aside and fearful of further repercussions, Diego stopped receiving Communion.
“Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Deeply hurt, Diego decided to take a risk and he wrote a letter to Pope Francis. “Beforehand,” he said; “I never would have dared, but with Pope Francis, after hearing many of his comments, I thought he would have listened.” In his letter, Diego asked the pope a humble, aching question: ‘Is there a place in the church for someone like me?’
“Abba in Heaven, hallowed be your name; your Kingdom come …”
On the eighth of December 2014 – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – Diego’s phone rang. “Soy el Papa Francesco,” said the voice in Spanish: “I am Pope Francis.”
They talked for quite a while with the pope mostly listening. Eventually he spoke. This is what he said to Diego: “God loves all His children, however they are; you are a son of God, who accepts you exactly as you are. Of course you are a son of the Church!”
The pope also learnt that Diego was engaged to a woman called Macarena. He said he would like to meet them both in person. And at 5pm on Saturday, 24 January 2015, he welcomed them both, not in his office, but at his home at the Santa Marta guesthouse. Pope Francis embraced Diego.
“The meeting was a wonderful, intimate, unique experience that changed my life. Now I am finally at peace.”
“ … Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Peter Day is a Catholic Priest in Canberra.
The story about Pope Francis is adapted from an article by Fr Kevin McGovern in Catholic Health Australia’s, Health Matters magazine (July 2016)