At noon on Saturday, Pope Francis received in audience participants in the Congress “And You Shall Eat at My Table Always!’ (2 Samuel 9:1-13),” organized by the sector for the Catechesis of Disabled Persons of the Italian National Catechetic Office, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of its institution:
In the course of the meeting the Pope put aside the prepared text of the address, and answered off-the-cuff the questions addressed to him by two girls and a priest, on how to address differences without fear and how to avoid exclusion also in Christian communities.
Here is a translation of the transcription of Pope Francis’ words:
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The first question was very rich, very rich, and it talked about differences. We are all different: there is not one who is the same as another. There are some differences that are greater and others that are less so, but we are all different. And you, the girl that asked the question, said: “Many times we are afraid of differences.” They make us afraid. Why? Because to encounter a person that has a difference, let’s say not strong but great, is a challenge, and every challenge makes us afraid. It’s more comfortable not to move; it’s more comfortable to ignore differences and say: “We are all the same, and if there is one who is not so the ‘same,’ let’s leave him aside, and not go to meet him.” It’s fear that every challenge causes us; every challenge is fearful, makes us afraid, renders us somewhat timid. But no! The differences are in fact the richness, because I have something, you have another, and with these two we make a more beautiful, greater thing. And so we can go forward. Let us think of a world where all are the same: it would be a boring world! It’s true that some differences are painful. We all know this, those that have roots in some sicknesses … but even those differences help us; they challenge us and enrich us. Therefore, we must never be afraid of differences: that is in fact the way to improve, to be better and richer.
And how is this done? By putting in common what we have. By putting it in common. It’s a lovely gesture that we, human persons, have; a gesture that we make almost without thinking, but it’s a very profound gesture: to shake hands, I give you what is mine, and you give me what is yours. And this is something that does everyone good. We go forward with the differences, because differences are a challenge but they make us grow. And let us think that every time I shake another’s hand, I give something of mine and I receive something from him. This also makes us grow. This is what comes to me as an answer to the first question.
I have forgotten something of the first question, but I will say it now with this posed by Serena. Serena makes things difficult for me, because I say what I think … She has spoken little – three/four lines, but she has said them forcefully! Serena has spoken of one of the worst things that exist among us: discrimination. It’s a very bad thing! “You’re not like me, you go there and I go here.” “But I would like to do catechesis …” – “Not in this parish. This parish is for those that are similar, there are no differences …” Is this parish good or not? [The Hall: Nooo!] What must the parish priest do? … Be converted? It’s true that if you want to do Communion, you must have a preparation; and if you don’t understand this language, for instance if you are deaf, you must have the possibility in that parish to prepare yourself with the language of the deaf. See, this is important! If you are different, you also have the possibility of being the best; this is true. Difference does not state that one who has five senses that work well is better than one, for instance, who is deaf and unable to speak. No! This isn’t true! We all have the same possibility to grow, to go ahead, to love the Lord, to do good things, to understand Christian Doctrine, and we all have the same possibility to receive the Sacraments. Understood?
When, many years ago — one hundred years ago or more — Pope Pius X said that Communion should be given to children, many were scandalized. “But that child doesn’t understand, he is different, he doesn’t understand well …” “Give Communion to children,” said the Pope, and he made of a difference an equality, because he knew that a child understands in another way. In school also, in the neighborhood, each one has his richness, is different, it’s as if he spoke another language. He is different because he expresses himself in a different way. And this fact is a richness. What Serena said happens so many times; it happens so many times and it is one of the worst things, one of the worst things of our cities, of our life: discrimination, with offensive words, too. One cannot be discriminated against. Each one of us has a way of knowing things that is different: one known in one way, another in another way, but all can know God. [A little girl approaches the Pope] Come, come … She is courageous! Come … She isn’t afraid, she risks, she knows that differences are a richness; she risks, and she has given us a lesson. She will never be discriminated against; she knows how to defend herself on her own!
See. Serena, I don’t know if I’ve answered your question. In the parish, in the Mass, in the Sacraments, all are equal, because all have the same Lord: Jesus, and the same Mother: Our Lady. Understood? [Another little girl approaches him] Come, come … another courageous one. The Father who spoke first asked some questions that are linked to what Serena said: how to receive all. But if you … I don’t say it to you, because I know that you receive everyone– but think of a priest who doesn’t receive everyone: what advice would the Pope give? “Close the door of the church, please!” –either everyone or no one. “But no — we think of that priest who defends himself — but no, Father, no, it’s not like that; I understand all, but I can’t receive all because not all are able to understand …” “It’s you who are not able to understand!” What the priest must do, helped by the laity, by catechists, by many, many people, is to help all to understand: to understand the faith, to understand love, to understand how to be friends, to understand differences, to understand how things are complementary, one can give one thing, and another can give another. This is to help to understand.
And you used two lovely words: receive and listen. Receive, namely to receive all, all, and to listen to all. I’ll tell you something. I think that today many good things are done in the Church’s pastoral care, many good things: in catechesis, in the liturgy, in charity, with the sick … many good things. But there is something that must be done more, also by priests, also by the laity — but priests especially must do more: the apostolate of the ear: to listen! “But, Father, it’s boring to listen, because it’s always the same stories, the same things …” “But it’s not the same persons, and the Lord is in the heart of each one of the persons, and you must have the patience to listen.” Receive and listen to all, and I believe that with this I’ve answered the questions.
I had prepared an address for you, and the Prefect [of the Papal Household] will give it so that it is known by all. Because to read an address is also somewhat boring … And there is a moment, when one reads an address, in which, with a certain wiliness, they begin to look at the clock, as if to say: “But when will he finish talking?” Therefore, you will read the address.
I thank you so much for this dialogue, for this visit, for this beauty of the differences that make up a community: one from another and vice versa, and all make up the unity of the Church. Thank you so much, and pray for me.
[A small boy approaches] Come, you also, come …
Now, stay seated tranquilly and, as good children, let us pray to our Mother, Our Lady. Let us all together pray to Our Lady. Hail, Mary …
And please pray for me. Thank you.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]