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On Sunday (April 15) Pope Francis comforted a child who lost his father during a visit to a poor district of Rome, saying God has a "dad's heart".
During a meeting Francis answered questions from children and one of them, Emanuele, was too shy to speak at the microphone so the pontiff decided to invite him onto stage. The child started crying and hugged Francis and whispered his question into the pope's ears, saying he was afraid that his father, who was an atheist, could not go to heaven.
Francis comforted Emanuele and said that it is God who decides who goes to heaven and that, since God has a 'dad's heart', he will not abandon the boy's dad, even if he was not a believer.
The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics visited the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in Rome's Corviale neighbourhood and met with children of the poor district of the Italian capital and celebrated Mass for the parish community.
Reuters
On Sunday (April 15) Pope Francis comforted a child who lost his father during a visit to a poor district of Rome, saying God has a "dad's heart". During a meeting Francis answered questions from children and one of them, Emanuele, was too shy to speak at the microphone so the pontiff decided to invite him onto stage. The child started crying and hugged Francis and whispered his question into the pope's ears, saying he was afraid that his father, who was an atheist, could not go to heaven. Francis comforted Emanuele and said that it is God who decides who goes to heaven and that, since God has a 'dad's heart', he will not abandon the boy's dad, even if he was not a believer. The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics visited the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in Rome's Corviale neighbourhood and met with children of the poor district of the Italian capital and celebrated Mass for the parish community.
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Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi, left, and Paola Podest, center, during a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile's flagship airline during the flight. The couple had been married civilly in 2010, however, they said they couldn't follow-up with a church ceremony because of the 2010 earthquake that hit Chile. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP)
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Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi, left, and Paola Podest, center, during a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile's flagship airline during the flight. The couple had been married civilly in 2010, however, they said they couldn't follow-up with a church ceremony because of the 2010 earthquake that hit Chile. (L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP)
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Charlene, Princess of Monaco (2-L) kisses the hand of Pope Francis, as her husband Prince Albert II of Monaco (L) looks on prior to a private audience with the pontiff at the Vatican on January 18, 2016.     / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE        (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 29:  Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves St. Peter's Square at the the end of Palm Sunday Mass on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem, where he was put to death. It marks the official beginning of Holy Week during which Christians observe the death of Christ before celebrations begin on Easter.  (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
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VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 29: Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves St. Peter's Square at the the end of Palm Sunday Mass on March 29, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate Jesus' arrival into Jerusalem, where he was put to death. It marks the official beginning of Holy Week during which Christians observe the death of Christ before celebrations begin on Easter. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Diego Neria Lejarraga says he had a private audience with the Pope in January

Catholic doctrine holds sex change procedures don't change person's gender in church's eyes

Neria: "If this Pope has a long life, which all of his followers hope, I think things will change"

(CNN) —  

Has Pope Francis taken another step to push for tolerance in the Catholic Church?

Yes, says Diego Neria Lejarraga, a transgender man who says he had a private audience with the Pope in late January, reportedly a first for the pontiff. Neria was born as a girl in Spain and raised as a devout Catholic.

But after his sex change operation eight years ago, many people scorned him in church in his hometown of Plasencia in western Spain. Neria recalls heated discussions with a parish priest and some others in town. Afterward, he started staying away from Mass.

“I’ve never lost faith, ever,” Neria says. “But the other thing is the rejection.”

He wrote to Pope Francis last year, saying his local bishop helped get the letter noticed. Next, according to Neria, came two phone calls from Francis. And then, a discreet audience on a Saturday evening, January 24, at the papal residence, Casa Santa Marta.

Vatican spokesmen and the local Spanish bishop’s office declined to comment on the meeting, insisting the Pope’s private meetings are just that.

Neria, a civil servant, told CNN that he’s not an activist for transgender people and doesn’t expect changes overnight.

“This man loves the whole world,” Neria says of Pope Francis. “I think there’s not – in his head, in his way of thinking, discrimination against anyone. I’m speaking about him, not the institution.”

Catholic doctrine holds that sex change procedures do not change a person’s gender in the eyes of the church.

“But if this Pope has a long life, which all of his followers hope,” Neria says, “I think things will change.”

And he’s already seen changes at home. The downside: Neria says he’s unaccustomed to the sudden media interest in him since the story broke in the local paper, Hoy, of Extremadura. He says he’s gotten queries from journalists as far afield as India and Colombia. But he also sees a positive side.

“Just the fact that you’ve met the holy father, without knowing what was said,” Neria says, “people now seem to look at you in a different way.”