Pope Francis tenderly embraced children with autism spectrum disorders, some of whom avoided meeting his gaze, during an audience Saturday aimed at offering solidarity to people living with the condition.
Families of children affected with autism were touched by the Pope’s show of support and words of encouragement.“It was an explosion of emotions,” said Maria Cristina Fiordi, a mother of a child with autism. “For us, we are parents of a child affected with autism, this meeting was very important. It was as an outstretched hand through a problem that is very often not
considered in the right way.” Franco Di Vincenzo, another parent of a child with autism, said he took strength from the Pope’s call not to hide, “that we should live with this problem in serenity.”
The audience was attended by some 7,000 people, including health care workers who had an international conference on autism hosted by the Vatican’s health care office this week.While autism is increasingly being diagnosed in places like North America, where about 1 in 68 children are said to be on the spectrum, it is still largely unknown and undiagnosed elsewhere, including in the Vatican’s own backyard of Italy, according to Dr. Stefano Vicari, head of pediatric neuropsychiatry at Vatican’s Bambino Gesú Hospital in Rome.
Holy Father’s Address:
I am happy to welcome you at the end of your 29th International Conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care, which I thank for wanting to realize such a commendable and relevant initiative, dedicated to the complex issue of autism spectrum disorders.
I warmly greet all of you who have come to take part in this meeting, which focused on prayer and testimony, together with people who are affected by autism spectrum disorders, their families and specialized associations.These conditions constitute a fragility that affects numerous children and, consequently, their families. They represent an area that appeal to the direct responsibility of governments and institutions, without of course forgetting the responsibility of Christian communities.
Everyone should be committed to promoting acceptance, encounter and solidarity through concrete support and by encouraging renewed hope. In this way we can contribute to breaking down the isolation and, in many cases, the stigma burdening people with autism spectrum disorders, and just as often their families. This must not be an anonymous or impersonal accompaniment, but one of listening to the profound needs that arise from the depths of a pathology which, all too often, struggles to be properly diagnosed and accepted without shame or withdrawing into solitude, especially for families. It is a Cross.
Assistance to people affected by autism spectrum disorders would benefit greatly from the creation of a network of support and services on the ground that are comprehensive and accessible. These should involve, in addition to parents, grandparents, friends, therapists, educators and pastoral workers. These figures can help families overcome the feelings that can sometimes arise, of inadequacy, uselessness and frustration.
For this very reason, I thank the families, parish groups and various associations present here today and from whom we heard these moving and meaningful testimonies, for the work they carry out every day. I extend to all of them my personal gratitude and that of the whole Church.
Moreover, I want to encourage the hard work of academics and researchers, so that they may discover therapies and support tools, to help and heal and, above all, prevent the onset of these conditions as soon as possible. All of this while paying due attention to the rights of the patients, their needs and their potential, always safeguarding the dignity of every person.
Dear brothers and sisters, I entrust you all to the protection of the Virgin Mary, and I thank you for your prayers.