Pope: Inclusion puts normally marginalized people first


VATICAN CITY – Meeting members of a foundation supporting people with autism and their families, Pope Francis happily donned a red chef’s apron over his white cassock and gave his guests an enthusiastic “thumbs up”.

The apron bore the name and slogan of a pizzeria near Milan run by young adults on the spectrum: “PizzAut: Feed Inclusion. Don’t Trample Dreams.”

The pizzeria, which opened in May 2021, also brought its food truck to Rome and parked along Bernini’s colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square to offer free lunch to those in need after the April 1 papal audience.

Pope Francis told them that the gesture was “magnificent! An initiative that demonstrates the style of the good Samaritan, the style of God”, which is to be close, compassionate and benevolent.

“With these three traits, one can see the face of God, the heart of God, the way of God,” he said.

The papal audience at the Apostolic Palace brought together members of the Italian Autism Foundation on the eve of World Autism Awareness Day. The UN-sponsored day this year was dedicated to the importance of access to education, which has been significantly disrupted over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reversing years of progress and worsening inequalities, the UN.org website said.

The pope highlighted the hardship the pandemic has caused for all vulnerable people and urged people to reflect on the impact of the war in Ukraine on those who were already disadvantaged.

The answer, he said, is for people to unite in prayer and charity and forge networks with everyone ready to take action.

“The church and local communities are called to network, to collaborate harmoniously in order to help the weakest and most disadvantaged so that their voice can be heard,” he said.

“By putting aside competitive attitudes, one can create an effective synergy that can have a profound impact on society” and create diverse and more widespread types of support, he said.

He encouraged the group to continue the work they do, including journeying together “with” people with autism, not just “for” them.

In fact, he said, “an essential aspect of a culture of inclusion is giving people with disabilities the opportunity to actively participate. Don’t exclude them, no, participate, put them first.”

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