Mentally Handicapped Are "Witnesses of God's Tenderness," Pope Says

Meets with Members of Faith and Light Association

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 26, 2002 ( John Paul II stressed the importance of learning from the mentally handicapped — «special witnesses of the tenderness of God» — and said they must be given their place in the Church.

The Holy Father made this appeal today at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo when he received delegates of the international Faith and Light association.

This association ( arose in 1971 during a pilgrimage of the mentally handicapped to Lourdes, organized by its founders, Marie Helene Mathieu, a specialized teacher, and Jean Vanier, founder in 1964 of L’Arche Communities.

Faith and Light has 1,400 communities in 75 countries. It aims to offer a spiritual way to the mentally handicapped, and their families and friends.

«In receiving all these ‘little ones’ marked by mental disability, you have recognized in them special witnesses of the tenderness of God, from whom we must learn much, and who have a specific place in the Church,» the Pope said during his meeting with members of the association.

«Their participation in the ecclesial community opens the way to simple and fraternal relations, and their filial and spontaneous prayer calls us all to return to our heavenly Father,» John Paul II said, explaining the lessons that all Christians must learn from the mentally disabled.

The Holy Father also thanked Faith and Light for its work in receiving these people and for helping them adjust socially. He acknowledged that «much remains to be done so that the dignity of every human being is respected and so that there is never an attack on the gift of life, especially when it is a question of children affected by disabilities.»

Young handicapped people of Faith and Light participated with choreographed performances at Toronto’s World Youth Day.

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