Pope Expected to Lunch With Gay, HIV Positive and Transgender Prisoners

PHOTO: Pope Francis is pictured in St. Peters Square at the Vatican on March 18, 2015.Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Francis is pictured in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 18, 2015.

Pope Francis will reportedly lunch Saturday with gay, transgender and HIV positive prison inmates as part of a day trip to Southern Italy.

The Italian news site Vatican Insider reported the pontiff will lunch with about 90 prisoners, including 10 from a prison ward that houses those inmates. The report said the prisoners won their spot in a special raffle.

The one-day trip to Naples will also include a visit to the city’s poorest neighborhood, still a stronghold of organized crime.

The visit and luncheon echo one of the central messages of Francis’ papacy. "Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent," Francis said in 2013.

Francis, Vatican watchers say, continues to reach out to groups who previously felt judged or disenfranchised by the Church.

In February, the Vatican installed bathrooms and showers for the homeless in St. Peter’s Square last month.

Coming back from a gathering in 2013, the pope spoke about homosexuality to reporters. "If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers."

The pope's remarks should not be seen as softening the church's stance on gay marriage, however. In January, Francis criticized “ideological colonization of the family," which a Vatican spokesman later confirmed was at least in part a reference to gay marriage.

The trip will include a stop at nearby Pompeii. Plans for fireworks to mark the pope’s visit have been scrubbed as a sign of respect for victims of the recent terrorist attack in Tunisia.