Pope Francis met with French disability group, Foi et Lumière (Faith and Light) on Saturday October 2. During the private audience in Rome, he thanked those with intellectual disabilities and their families for witnessing to ‘the heart of the Gospel’.
Foi et Lumière was formed 50 years ago with a pilgrimage for people with intellectual disabilites to the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. Five decades on, and the organisation has communities throughout the world.
Its inclusive communities across 90 countries and 5 continents are made up of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends, especially young people, who regularly meet in a christian spirit, to share their friendship, pray together, celebrate and celebrate life
The private audience was organised to celebrate the anniversary of the association’s 50 years of history. An international delegation travelled to Rome to represent the entire international family of Faith and Light.
Present were some Faith and Light families from the communities of Rome along with Marie-Hélène Mathieu (co-founder of Faith and Light), Hoda Elturk (president), Raúl Izquierdo (international coordinator) and Father Marco Bove (international chaplain) as well as some members of the board of directors, the international team and the secretariat.
In the association’s moving address to the pope, International Coordinator, Raúl Izquierdo said:
“We know that people with any kind of intellectual disability are a treasure for the Church and for the society. A treasure that cannot be discovered at first sight, but requires encounter, closeness, and friendship. People with an intellectual disability have every right, and above all the right to be loved and accepted as they are. They are privileged witnesses of God’s love for every human being.
“Over the years, many families and friends have joined us, and many challenges have been faced and overcome, from the adaptation of churches and other places of worship for greater accessibility to the conviction that people with disabilities, beyond being objects of charity or pity, have a specific vocation in the Church.
“We have witnessed stories of overcoming difficulties, courage, friendship, love… And in all this, we have seen God’s love reflected in a special way in the most fragile and vulnerable people. With people with intellectual disabilities, we also learn to know and accept our own disabilities, which are many and varied.”
Highlighting the difficulties caused by Covid-19, and a broader “disposable culture”, Izquierdo continued:
“Today, we are facing different difficulties for our communities: the pandemic is proving to be a difficult experience for all of us, limiting our desire to meet face-to-face.
“But also, the legislative and moral reality of so many countries where the “disposable culture” towards the most fragile is very present. The ageing without renewal of many communities, the economic difficulties of so many families and countries, and finally, the growing culture of mistrust and fear, as well as comfort and indifference, in which community or associative initiatives are becoming increasingly rare.”
He added: “But alongside these difficulties, we experience hope in a very special way. Faith and Light communities are very joyful and festive. We know that what seems to be a problem can be a gift and an opportunity: we just have to look at it with the eyes of God…it is precisely in being small that the greatness of the Lord is more perceptible.”
Addressing the association, the Pope said that the group’s message of love and acceptance is at “the heart of the Gospel”.
“The existence of Foi et Lumière was and is prophetic because often the most vulnerable people are discarded, considered useless,” Pope Francis said, as reported by Catholic News Agency (CNA).
“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 at the weekend.
“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, saying that this was a “sign of communion” and 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,” the pope 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.
“There are many who in their littleness and fragility are forgotten and excluded”
“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.”
He also appealed to families of new-born children with disabilities to embrace a sense of hope and not to “despair” when facing a diagnosis of disability.
“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,” the pope said.
PHOTOS: Facebook / Foi et Lumière International / Facebook