Young People with Disabilities Are ‘God’s Smile’

Pope’s Address to the Seraphic Institute

God’s Smile
© Vatican Media

“Dear brothers and sisters, follow the footprints of the Saints. May your work always have the flavor and joy of the mission. Every smile of your young people will be God’s smile for you,” said Pope Francis to the Seraphic Institute, which works with disabled people.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of its foundation, the Holy Father met today, December 13, 2021, with the Seraphic Institute of Assisi. It’s an institution initiated by Saint Ludovico Casoria, which promotes and develops rehabilitation, psycho-educational, and health activities for children and young people with physical, psychic, and sensorial disabilities.

“In the first place, I embrace the children, those who were able to make the trip, and those who stayed at home. They are the center of your mission. Together with them, I greet all those that accompany them in their different tasks, but also all those that offer a warm support to this great endeavor, from the children’s families themselves to the institutions,” said the Pontiff in his address.

Saint Francis and Saint Ludovico

 The Holy Father also recalled his visit to Assisi in 2013. “I went to follow the footprints of the saint whose name I’ve taken. The meeting with your young people, whom I greeted one by one, made me relive, in a certain sense, that embrace of the last that characterized the life of Saint Francis. He made himself poor, following Jesus’ example, to be fully on the side of the last.”

And the Bishop of Rome referred to the figure of Ludovico of Casoria, a “true Franciscan,” who was inspired “to found an institute dedicated to the blind and deafmutes, categories that, at the time, lacked the necessary social support.” Since then, “the Seraphic Institute has taken great steps, growing in the gamut of services it offers to receive children with severe and multiple disabilities, and it has been outstanding for the professionalism with which it carries out its mission, earning the merited praise of the scientific community itself,” he continued.

Disability Doesn’t Make Life Less Worthy

 In this connection, the Pontiff highlighted that “the most important thing is the spirit with which you all dedicate yourselves to this mission. It’s clear to you, as it should be for all, that every human person is precious, has a value that doesn’t depend on what he has, or his capacities, but on the simple fact of being a person, image of God. If disability or sickness make life more difficult, it’s no less worthy of being lived, and lived fully. In the end, which one of us doesn’t have limitations and, sooner or later, doesn’t meet with limitations, even serious ones?”

The Pope also stressed that it’s important “to consider the disabled person as one of us, who must be at the center of our attention and concern, and also at the center of everyone’s attention and of politics. It’s an objective of civilization.”

Moreover, he referred to other organizations that, as this Seraphic Institute, “do this service, and sometimes struggle to survive or to give their utmost” and, he added, “we cannot wait for everything from public organizations. The solidarity of many people is necessary, as is the case of your benefactors. May the Lord bless them for their good heart.” Nevertheless, “the State and Public Administration must do their part. We can’t leave so any families alone, which are obliged to struggle to maintain children with difficulties, with the great worry of the future that awaits them when they can no longer go on.”

The Logic of Love

  The Successor of Peter also said that “many parents find in your organization a new family for their children. This is beautiful! Some of them are present here. The ‘Seraphic” Institute feels itself an integral part of its community and rejoices to experience that the Institute’s services aren’t limited to professional assistance, but that you offer each one personalized, attentive and careful attention. The logic of the ‘Seraphic’ Institute is love, which is learned from the Gospel in the school of Saint Francis and Saint Ludovico; love that is able to read in the eyes and in the gestures, that anticipates desires, that doesn’t give up in face of difficulties, that finds the strength to start again every day, and rejoices over every minimal progress of the assisted person. Life is always beautiful, even with few resources. Sometimes it can be surprising,” he continued.

Here is the Pontiff’s full address, translated by Exaudi.

* * *

The Holy Father’s Address

 Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Thank you for this visit, with which you wished to correspond to that I made to you in 2013, on the occasion of my first pilgrimage to Assisi. And you have chosen to come on this 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Seraphic Institute by Saint Ludovico of Casoria. I join you in your joy and celebration.

In the first place, I embrace the children: those that were able to make the trip and those that stayed at home. They are the center of your mission. Along with them, I greet all those that accompany them in their different tasks, but also all those that offer a warm support to this great endeavor, from the children’s families themselves to the institutions. I greet tireless Bishop Domenico Sorrentino, he goes everywhere, continue this way, Domenico! I thank the President, Francesca Di Maolo for her words. I greet the representatives of the Casoria Institute entrusted to Saint Ludovico’s  Spiritual Daughters, the Elisabettine Bigie Franciscan Sisters. It’s lovely that the two Institutes, although different, are guided by the same ideal inspiration.

I remember well the time I spent with you all in Assisi. I went to follow the footprints of the saint whose name I’ve taken. The meeting with your young people, whom I greeted one by one, made me relive, in a certain sense, that embrace of the last that characterized the life of Saint Francis. He made himself poor, following Jesus’ example, to be fully at the side of the last. His embrace of a leper summarizes the meaning of his whole life. In his Testament, he says that it was that embrace that began his conversion. He saw Jesus in those sick and marginalized. He bent over their wounds. He placed them at the center of society’s attention, already tempted by that “throwaway culture,” which concentrates wealth in the hands of a few, while so many remain on the margins, perceived as a burden, hardly worthy of alms.

Saint Ludovico of Casoria, as a true Franciscan, had assimilated the Seraphic Father’s message. In his creative and generous charity, he didn’t think twice when, during a pilgrimage to Assisi, while praying before the Crucifix, he heard that voice that, with a triple ‘yes,’ confirmed to him the inspiration to found an Institute dedicated to the blind and deafmute, categories that at that time lacked the necessary social support. Since then, the Seraphic Institute has taken great steps, growing in the gamut of services it offers to receive children with severe and multiple disabilities and has been outstanding for the professionalism with which it carries out its mission, earning merited praises from the scientific community itself.

The most important thing is the spirit with which you all dedicate yourselves to this mission. It’s clear that for you, as it should be for all, every human person is precious, has a value that doesn’t depend on what he has or his capacities, but due to the simple fact of being a person, image of God. If disability or sickness make life more difficult, it’s no less worthy to be lived, and lived fully. In the end, which one of us doesn’t have limitations and, sooner or later, doesn’t have limitations, including serious ones? It’s important to regard the disabled person as one of us, who must be at the center of our attention and concern, and also at the center of everyone’s attention and of politics. It’s an objective of civilization. By adopting this principle, we realize that the person with disability not only receives but also gives. To take care of them isn’t a unidirectional gesture, but an exchange of gifts. We, Christians, find in the Gospel of love — I’m thinking of the parable of the Good Samaritan — an additional reason for it. However, the principle is applied to all, inscribed as it is in the conscience, which makes us feel our unity with all human beings.  We are truly united by a bond of fraternity, as I stated in the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, which I wanted to sign in Assisi.

Hence, it’s necessary to be fully conscious of this principle and to develop the consequences, including when it comes to distributing the common wealth so that it won’t happen that those who need most help are left without it.

I’m thinking of so many structures that, like you, offer this service, and sometimes struggle to survive or give the utmost.  We certainly cannot expect everything from public organizations. The solidarity of many people is needed, as is the case of your benefactors. May the Lord bless them for their good heart, but the State and Public Administration must do their part. We can’t leave so many families alone, which are obliged to struggle to maintain their children with difficulties, with great worry about the future that awaits them when they can no longer go on.

Many parents find in your organization a new family for their children. This is beautiful! Some of them are present here. The ‘Seraphic’ Institute feels itself an integral part of its community and rejoices to experience that the Institute’s services are not limited to professional assistance, but which offers each one personalized, attentive and careful attention. The logic of the ‘Seraphic’ Institute is love, which is learned from the Gospel in the school of Sant Francis and Saint Ludovico; love that is able to read in the eyes or in the gestures, that anticipates the desires, that doesn’t give up in face of difficulties, that finds the strength every day to start again and rejoices over each minimal progress of the assisted person. Life is always beautiful, even with few resources. Sometimes it can be surprising. I know that your children are able to do many things, becoming small artists of the theatre, the radio or painting. A smile of theirs is worth all the effort.

In this period of pandemic, you have had some difficult moments. However, the mere fact that you organized a trip to Rome with a good group of your young people — and I can imagine the difficulty — gives me a measure of your commitment and enthusiasm.

I have learned that in the last years the initiative you announced to me at the time, to make your Chapel a place of permanent Eucharistic Adoration, went ahead until the COVID emergency put an end to it. To adore Jesus in the Eucharist and to “listen” to His wounds in the weakest, as I said to you in 2013, has become your program. Thank you.

Your Institute has also developed a socio-political school to encourage society to re-think itself from the last. This school fits well in the framework of the initiative of the Economy of Francis, helping to renew the economy in justice and solidarity.

Dear brothers and sisters, follow the footprints of the Saints. May your work always have the flavor and joy of the emission. Every smile of your children will be God’s smile for you. I bless you with all my heart and ask you to pray for me. Thank you.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester