· Francis visits a community for people with intellectual disabilities ·
“Celebrating imperfection”, because no disabled person should be discriminated against, is the founding idea of L'Arche (The Ark), founded by Jean Vanier in 1964. And it was also the main theme of the visit Pope Francis made to the community “Il Chicco” in Ciampino on Friday afternoon, 13 May.
Following the Jubilee initiative of “Mercy Fridays”, the Pope went to the cusp of Rome to spend about an hour and a half with 18 patients with severe intellectual disabilities and volunteers of two family-homes called the “Vineyard” and the “Olive Tree”. Arriving close to 5 pm, Francis went to bear witness against the throw-away culture. No one should be deprived of love, joy and dignity just because they have intellectual disabilities, just as no one should be discriminated against because of prejudices that marginalize people. The great L’Arche family is dedicated to this mission of service to society’s weak and marginalized. L’Arche, in association with the Faith and Light organization, is present in over 30 countries throughout the world. People with severe disabilities are welcomed into the family-homes, where they feel accepted and are able to be protagonists of their life. The homey atmosphere allows for the discovery of their sensitivities, their deep affection and their need for friendship.
Francis was able to experience these very sentiments in Ciampino, where he spent a peaceful afternoon in a family atmosphere of joy and sharing. Accompanied on the visit by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the Pontiff brought pastries and seasonal fruit, and sat at the table for a snack with those present. He was moved as he listened to the simple words of greeting from several guests of the home: Nadia, Salvatore, Vittorio, Paolo, Maria Grazia, Danilo. He also paid a visit to the seriously ill, offering them gestures of profound affection and tenderness, particularly to Armando and Fabio who were among the first to be welcomed in 1981 when the first L’Arche structure opened in Italy. There is now a second in Bologna, and a third is expected to open soon in Sardegna.
According to Vanier’s insight, the lives of people with disabilities should include manual tasks appropriate to their individual capacities. Thus Pope Francis also visited the artisans’ workshop, where each day small objects are created, expressing the creativity and imagination of the members of Il Chicco. After posing for photographs with each of them — some of whose faces showing tears of excitement — and, holding hands with them, Francis prayed in the small chapel. A song typical of the community preceded the recitation of an Our Father, a Hail Mary, a Glory Be and a Prayer for Eternal Rest for friends who are deceased, or — as they say in the home — who are in “the Ark in heaven”, as the director, Marco Veronesi, explained.
Il Chicco receives few regional subsidies, while most of the aid necessary for they assistance it provides is entrusted to Providence. Thus, before bidding farewell, Pope Francis left a personal contribution. The community’s administrators thanked him and expressed their hope that he would come again. “We need you”, they said, to which Francis replied: “Here you have touched my heart”.
With this visit the Pontiff expressed one of the salient features of his ministry: attention to the simplest and weakest people. Bringing them his tenderness and affection, he wanted to give a tangible sign of how we can live the Year of Mercy, which as of 12 May, has brought more than 7 million pilgrims to Rome for Jubilee events. That of 13 May was the 5th of Francis’ “Mercy Friday” initiative for the Jubilee Year: in January he went Torre Spaccata on the outskirts of Rome, to a care home for the elderly and another for patients living in a vegetative state; in February, he met with a community of recovering addicts in Castel Gandolfo; in March and April the initiative coincided respectively with Holy Thursday, when he washed the feet of refugees in the CARA reception centre of Castelnuovo di Porto, and his journey among the refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos.
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