Pope Francis met with people with mental disabilities and their families on Saturday and thanked them for their witness to the Gospel.
“Every person, even and especially the smallest and the most vulnerable, is loved by God and has a place in the Church and in the world,” Pope Francis said in the meeting on Oct. 2.
In an encounter with the French association “Foi et Lumière,” or Faith and Light, the pope said that the group’s message of love and acceptance is at “the heart of the Gospel.”
Foi et Lumière began 50 years ago with a pilgrimage for people with mental disabilities to the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.
The movement has grown since then to have inclusive communities on five continents.
“The existence of Foi et Lumière was and is prophetic because often the most vulnerable people are discarded, considered useless,” Pope Francis said.
“And your witness is even more important today to fight the throwaway culture and to remind everyone that diversity is a treasure and must never become a reason for exclusion and discrimination.”
The pope commended the group for bringing together Christians from different communities, including Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. He said that this “sign of communion” is a “concrete seed of unity.”
“It is precisely the most fragile people who become a source of reconciliation, because they call us all to a path of conversion,” he said.
During the papal audience in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, leaders of the association shared photos of their members who were unable to travel to Rome to take part in the meeting.
“The path you have travelled is long and full of fruits, but still today in the Church and in the world there are many who in their littleness and fragility are forgotten and excluded,” Pope Francis said.
“Therefore, I encourage you to continue, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, your welcoming presence; may your communities always be places of encounter, of human promotion and of celebration for all those who still feel marginalized and abandoned.”
“For families experiencing the birth of a child with a disability, may you be a sign of hope, so that no one closes in on themselves, in sadness and despair.”