reflections, updates and homilies from Deacon Mike Talbot inspired by the following words from my ordination: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach...
Friday, April 1, 2022
Pope Francis calls for inclusion and solidarity for those with autism
On Friday, the eve of World Autism Awareness Day, Pope Francis met a delegation from the Italian Autism Foundation (FIA). He encouraged a culture of inclusion, participation, and solidarity for those suffering from the disorder.
By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis on Friday urged for a culture of inclusion, belonging and solidarity for persons with autism so that they not only receive attention but also participate in and contribute to society. He made the exhortation in his meeting with over 200 representatives of the Italian Autism Foundation (FIA), on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, Saturday.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication.
The Holy Father thanked the foundation saying through their research projects and initiatives in favour of the weakest and most disadvantaged, they are making a valuable contribution to the fight against the "throw-away culture prevalent in our society that is too focused on competition and profit." He acknowledged, "We are victims of this throw-away culture.”
“The Samaritan can be the person with a disability, with autism, who becomes a neighbour to others, putting his or her talents at the service of the community.”
Culture of inclusion and belonging
In this regard, he encouraged a culture of inclusion and belonging. Disability, in all its forms, he said, represents a challenge and an opportunity to build together a more inclusive and civil society, where family members, teachers, and associations like FIA are not left alone but are supported.
This calls for raising awareness about autism spectrum disorder, breaking down prejudices, and promoting a culture of inclusion and belonging, based on the dignity of the person. He said that men and women who are more fragile and vulnerable are too often marginalised are actually a great asset to society.
Nevertheless, many people with autism are gaining good work experience while others are dedicating themselves to helping others, as did St Margaret of Città di Castello, a young Italian woman with a disability who dedicated her life to the Lord in the service of the poor. “And on this road people with disabilities are not only the object of care but also the subject,” the Pope stressed. “The Samaritan can be the person with a disability, with autism, who becomes a neighbour to others, putting his or her talents at the service of the community.”
The Holy Father said an essential aspect of the culture of inclusion is the possibility for people with disabilities to participate actively. Putting them at the centre means not only breaking down physical barriers but also ensuring that they can take part in the initiatives of the civil and ecclesial community and make their contribution. This is facilitated through access to education, employment and leisure areas where they can socialise and express their creativity.
“The style of the Good Samaritan, the style of God. What is God's style? Closeness, compassion, tenderness. With these three traits we see the face of God, the heart of God, the style of God.”
Despite great strides in changing mentality, the Pope lamented that prejudice, inequality, and discrimination still remain, and encouraged civil and ecclesial institutions to collaborate.
Noting the serious impact of Covid-19 and the Ukraine war on the most fragile, the elderly, and people with disabilities and their families, Pope Francis called for networking and solidarity among persons with autism, supporting one another. “Let us take responsibility for human suffering with projects and proposals that put the smallest at the centre.” The Pope also called for collaboration and networking between ecclesial and civil communities.
An economy of solidarity
Pointing to the first Christian community as a model of an economy of solidarity, the Holy Father said that the Gospel has inspired us to put fraternity at the centre of the economy, so that the poor, the marginalized, and people with disabilities are not excluded. “Put fraternity at the centre of the economy; not egoism, not personal profit but fraternity,” he insisted.
Groups such as the FIA need benefactors, economic support and resources in order to build a more united, inclusive and fraternal society, which is also a concrete way of doing business in solidarity.
After meeting the Pope, members of the Italian Autism Foundation cooked and distributed lunch to the poor in the Pope’s canteen. The Holy Father expressed appreciation for the initiative, saying it “bears witness to the style of the Good Samaritan, the style of God”. “What is God's style? Closeness, compassion, tenderness. With these three traits,” he said, “we see the face of God, the heart of God, the style of God.”