Physical vulnerability can be a resource for society, the church, pope says

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Pope Francis blesses a woman during an audience with members of the Italian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired at the Vatican Dec. 12. CNS photo/Vatican Media

VATICAN CITY. Christians working with people who have a physical disability must be motivated by a sense of solidarity, not pity, and they should promote people’s active participation, not their passive reception of assistance, Pope Francis said.

“I see you as a constructive force in society,” he told members of the Italian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired during an audience at the Vatican Dec. 12. The meeting came the day before the feast of St. Lucy, patroness of the blind, and the anniversary of the pope’s priestly ordination, he told them.

“We usually associate a disability with the idea of need, assistance and, sometimes — thank God increasingly less so — a certain pietism” that seeks to alleviate someone’s pain without feeling any honest empathy, Pope Francis told them.

However, he said, “the Christian point of view on disability is no longer and must no longer be pietism and mere welfarism, but the awareness that vulnerability, assumed with responsibility and solidarity, is a resource for everyone in society and for the Church community.”

Pope Francis said that blind and visually impaired people, edified by ethical principles and a sense of civic duty, “are at the forefront of building inclusive communities, where everyone can participate without being ashamed of their limitations and weaknesses, working with others to complement and support each other.”

Everyone, not just people with physical challenges, need “each other’s help to move forward in life, because we are all fragile in our heart, all of us,” he said.

The pope praised the Italian nonprofit, nonreligious association’s 100 years of work, saying that by “protecting the rights of people with visual disabilities you have cooperated in the civic growth of the country. I encourage you to move forward with an increasingly constructive, proactive style, as a force that conveys confidence and hope.”

“Italian society needs hope, and this comes above all from the witness of people who, in their own condition of fragility, do not isolate themselves, do not wallow in self-pity, but work together with others to make things better,” the pope said.

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