'People's Pontiff' denounces quest for physical perfection

Pope Francis said those with disabilities should not be denied receiving the sacrament.

Fabio Frustaci/AP
Pope Francis delivers his speech at a special audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican on Saturday. Pope Francis met disabled people participating in a meeting promoted by Italian Episcopal Conference.

Pope Francis denounced "discrimination" against those diagnosed with disabilities, urging they not be institutionalized or denied receiving the sacrament.

"The world does not become better because only apparently ‘perfect’ people live there ... but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase," the pope said Sunday at a St. Peter’s Square Mass dedicated to those with disabilities and their caregivers, according to Vatican Radio.

The pope decried the rationale that it is better to keep those with disabilities "apart, in some ‘enclosure’ – even a gilded one – or in ‘islands’ of pietism or social welfare, so that they do not hold back the pace of a false well being," according to the Associated Press.

"What an illusion it is when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability," he added. "They fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations."

The pope pushed for inclusion at the Jubilee of the Sick and Disabled on Sunday, another directive by the "People’s Pontiff" to promote mercy and compassion.

As the Christian Science Monitor’s Harry Bruinius wrote in April, following the release of the pope’s pastoral exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," the pope’s emphasis "on pastoring has often clashed with conservatives."

"The majority continues to emphasize the clarity of the church’s objective teachings rather than 'the mud of the street,'" wrote Mr. Bruinius. Yet the pope’s actions have resonated with a wider public, as he has not only addressed subjects once taboo for the church, but also uncharacteristically advocated for more compassion towards gay and divorced Catholics. 

Sunday, the pope criticized denying sacraments to those with disabilities. While the church encourages those with disabilities receive the sacrament, certain texts require those with disabilities be able to distinguish the sacrament from ordinary food.

In a candid question-and-answer session, the pope said it’s no excuse to ever deny the sacrament, even if a priest might think they don’t understand, according to the Catholic News Agency.

"Each one of us has a different way of understanding things ... but each of us has the ability to know God," he said, according to the Catholic News Agency.

The pope decried the practice of terminating a pregnancy because an unborn child appears to have a disability as well.

"In some cases, we are even told that it is better to eliminate them as soon as possible, because they become an unacceptable economic burden in time of crisis," he said, according to Crux.

Sunday's Mass included many people with disabilities. A blind woman used Braille to read aloud from the Bible, the liturgy was translated in sign language, and, in a first for Vatican ceremonies, participants diagnosed with mental disabilities acted out a parable as it was read aloud.

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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