Paolo Jr., a 10-years old mentally disabled child, attracted the attention of the audience at Pope Francis’ weekly general audience when he walked onto the stage. At that time, priests were delivering prayer and introductory speeches. Suddenly Paolo Jr. walked up the stage and started greeting people and shaking hands with them.
The auditorium was full of thousands of people but Paolo Jr., the little boy, felt at home roaming freely on the stage. Seeing that the boy had no intention of leaving the stage, after greeting everybody, Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, the head of protocol, was asked by the pontiff to let the child borrow his chair. The little boy was clearly breaching the protocols but Pope Francis didn’t mind it at all. In fact, he looked at the boy with a sense of love and joy. This was despite the boy was repeatedly gesturing that he wanted to take his skullcap.
Pope Francis’ skull cap, as you may know, is a symbol of his rank in the Catholic Church. Pope is the only church official who is allowed to wear the white skull cap, zucchetto as it’s called in Italian. The boy repeatedly went to Pope Francis and gestured that he wants to take it from the Pope’s head!
Finally, the boy’s wish was granted when a church official brought another white skull cap for him. Paolo Jr. seemed very happy on receiving his own skull cap. Once he got what he wanted, he was ready to get back to his seat in the audience. People at the auditorium supported the kind gesture by giving a round of applause when Paolo Jr. was given a skull cap.
Pope Francis did not forget to mention the boy at the end of his speech. He praised the ‘freedom and spontaneity’ of children. He used the activities of Paolo Jr. as an example to preach. The Pope said that the faithful people should feel the same freedom to come to God without fear as Paolo Jr. came to the stage and moved around as he was at his home. Later, he also prayed for the boy. He said “I thank this boy for the lesson he has given all of us. May the Lord help him in his limitation, as he grows, because what he did came from the heart.”
Pope Francis’ loving gesture towards the little boy served as a good example of how to lovingly accommodate people with disabilities in society.
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