Pope Francis’s message today was perhaps the most uncomfortable challenge for Catholics so far. Having spent three days in the Vatican’s corridors of power with his Council of Cardinals reflecting on how best to rebuild Christ’s Church, his first stop in Assisi was not the Archbishop’s residence or the obvious option of St Francis’s tomb. Top of the agenda was to visit the severely disabled children of Assisi.
As much as Pope Francis’s words about rejecting worldliness might prick our consciences about how much we spend on clothes, cars and make up, addressing this is a lot easier than looking in the eye of a boy with cerebral palsy or striking up a conversation with a girl with Down’s when no one else is talking to her at a party.
How often at Mass have we had the courage to approach the child in the wheelchair and offer her or him the Sign of Peace? And how can we go about it without being patronising or inappropriate? It is a genuine dilemma, but at the very least Pope Francis’s visit must make us pause for thought, especially for those of us who protest about the injustice of late term abortions on disabled unborn babies.
Furthermore, to the silent heroes who work tirelessly through their retirement still supporting their severely disabled child, while many are enjoying a relaxing retirement, a simple show of interest or care from another is of immeasurable value. It affirms that what carers do to support the dignity of another matters.
Carers around the world today will rejoice at the Pope who embraces those who are so often ignored and unloved through social awkwardness or uncertainty. And through this action he embraces them too.