Inés San Martín June 12, 2016
Pope Francis delivers his speech at a special audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Saturday, June 11, 2016. Pope Francis met disabled people participating in a meeting promoted by Italian Episcopal Conference. (AP Photo/Fabio Frustaci)
In a special Mass for persons with physical and mental disabilities on Sunday, Pope Francis said refusing the sacraments to persons with mental illnesses or conditions is “discrimination,” and said: “The way we experience illness and disability is an index of the love we are ready to offer.”
ROME-As part of the Holy Year of Mercy, Francis’s attention this weekend was on sick people and those with disabilities. He called for the disabled to have access to the sacraments, and condemned those who want to “eliminate” them, meaning in part aborting children diagnosed with various disabilities.
“We are familiar with the objections raised, especially nowadays, to a life characterized by serious physical limitations,” Francis said on Sunday, as he celebrated a special Mass in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square.
“It’s thought that sick or disabled persons cannot be happy, since they cannot live the lifestyle held up by the culture of pleasure and entertainment,” he said.
The pope complained there are those who believe anything imperfect – speaking specifically of people with disabilities – should be “kept apart, in some ‘enclosure’,” so they don’t hold back the pace “of a false well-being.”
“In some cases, we are even told that it is better to eliminate them as soon as possible, because they become an unacceptable economic burden in time of crisis,” he said.
“Yet what an illusion it is when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability! They fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations.”
Francis’s words come as pro-life advocates warn that people with Down syndrome might disappear in the next several generations because up to 90 percent of unborn children diagnosed with the condition are aborted where abortion is legal.
In Denmark, 98 percent of these pregnancies were terminated in 2015.
“The way we experience illness and disability is an index of the love we are ready to offer,” Francis said on Sunday.
According to the pope, the “happiness that everyone desires” can only be expressed and attained “if we are capable of loving.”
Francis’s Mass, and the subsequent weekly Angelus prayer, were broadcast live with translation in sign language. One of the deacons serving in the Mass was deaf, and some of the altar boys had Down syndrome.
Before the ceremony began, several individuals recounted their personal experience: A married couple in wheel chairs who give catechesis in their parish, and a Redemptoriest priest who’s blind and deaf-mute.
One of those stories was from Enrico Petrillo, an Italian widower who lost his wife, Chiara, to cancer four years ago, soon after delivering their third baby, Francesco. Before Francesco, who was on stage with Petrillo, the couple lost two babies minutes after they were born, Maria and David.
“Mine is a beautiful story, because sickness and death didn’t have the last word, they didn’t have the capacity to make me believe that what was happening was a disgrace,” Petrillo said. “We were consoled by a God who suffered with us.”
Love, he said, is an injustice: “Is it just that I’m a widower? Is it just that Francesco doesn’t have a mom? Is it just to be ill? Is it just to be disabled? Is it just that the Son of God died in the cross? No, but this is love.”
“This is the Jubilee Year of Mercy, not of justice,” he said.
On Saturday, Francis addressed hundreds of people with disabilities at the Paul VI Hall, often used for the weekly Wednesday audiences during winter time.
Speaking off-the-cuff to answer questions, the pope said the world doesn’t become better for the apparently “perfect” people living in it, but through solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect.
When asked by a young woman named Serena, who’s in a wheelchair, why some disabled people aren’t able to receive Communion or go to Mass, he said, “She puts me in a tough spot!”
“Serena spoke about one of the ugliest things among us: discrimination,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing.”
The pontiff then said that those priests and parishes that refuse to give catechesis to the disabled- deaf people, those with Down syndrome- are called “to conversion.”
“It’s true that to receive Communion you have to be prepared,” Francis relented. “But if for instance you’re deaf, you must have the possibility in that parish to prepare through sign language.”
The pope then said that everyone has the same ability to grow and understand Christian doctrine, even if the learning processes are different.
“Diversity doesn’t mean that those who have the five senses are better than those who’re deaf, we all have the possibility of loving God,” he said.
Talking to the priests, Francis said that those who don’t welcome everyone might as well close the door of their parishes: “Or everyone or no one!”
The pope added that some might argue not everyone, such as the mentally disable, “understands,” to which he said “It’s you [the priest] who doesn’t understand!”
According to the pontiff, the job of the priest, helped by the laity and the catechists, is to help everyone understand the faith and the differences, so they become complementary.
In his prepared remarks, which he didn’t read but were distributed among the present, he had written that it’s “sad” to see that in some cases priests are still dubious of the mentally ill’s capacity to know God, hence withholding the Sacraments from them.