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Pope Shows Kids With Disabilities Have a Place in Church

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Pope Francis was conducting a religious service at the Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City on Wednesday, when 6-year-old Wenzel Wirth came up to the stage, seemingly curious about the brightly colored guards in uniform who stood watch. Pope Francis and his cardinals responded with laughter as the boy reached to hold the guard’s hand then ran off to the back of the stage.

Later, Wirth’s mother approached the Pope with her son and explained he is nonverbal. The audio in the clip is not clear, but it sounds like she asks the Pope for her son to speak. Wirth was more interested in playing on the stage than visiting with the Pope, who said, “Let him, if he wants to play here, let him.” The mother went back to her seat while the boy stayed on stage. Pope Francis leaned over to the chuckling cardinal on his right and said, “He’s Argentinian. Undisciplined.” Pope Francis is Argentinian himself.

Pope Francis then used this as an opportunity to deliver a message to the congregation:

Este chico no puede hablar, es mudo, pero sabe comunicar. Sabe expresarse. Y tiene una cosa que me hizo pensar: es libre. Indisiplinadamente libre (risas y aplausos) y me hizo pensar a mi, ‘Yo soy tambien libre asi delante de Dios?’ Cuando Jesus dice que tenemos que hacernos como ninos, nos dice que, tenemos que tener la libertad que tiene un nino delante de su padre. Creo que nos predico a todos este chico. Y pidamos la gracia de que pueda hablar.

This boy cannot speak, he is mute, but he knows how to communicate. He knows how to express himself. And he has something that made me think: He is free. Undisciplined-ly free and he made me think, ‘Am I also that free before God?’ When Jesus said that we are to be like children, he tells us we are to have the same freedom children have before their father. I believed this boy preached to us. And let’s ask for grace so that he may speak.


Places of worship do not always welcome children with disabilities. Pope Francis, however, with his willingness to allow the child to explore his surroundings, showed how easy it is to be inclusive by simply allowing the child to be himself.

The Pope did not ask Wirth’s mother to take him away, he did not call the boy disruptive and he did not ask for the family to leave. Instead, the Pope respected the boy and recognized his sensory needs. Not only that, he used the moment to teach a lesson.

Pope Francis made the point that although Wirth is nonverbal, he is able to communicate and express himself. A powerful message that shows speech is not the only form of communication. His mention of asking for grace for the boy to speak simply may have been a response to the mother’s request (if that is what she said to him in their short interaction).

Banner image via YouTube

Originally published: December 4, 2018
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