Pope Francis began his day in Assisi very early this morning. He arrived at the Seraphic Institute around 8:00 am where he met with the children and employees of the center for the physically and mentally handicapped, who he greeted with the affection that characterizes him, one by one.
Speaking off the cuff, the Pontiff said that these young people “share the wounds that Jesus bore” and “these wounds must be heard and recognized.” He reminded those present that “Jesus was very beautiful when He resurrected. He had the signs of martyrdom but decided to take with Him before God the wounds of the cross.”
The Holy Father shared with the children of the Institute a letter sent to him by Nicolas, a 16-year-old youth of Buenos Aires, who was born handicapped. “It was one of the most beautiful letters I’ve received,” Pope Francis said.
“Dear Francis, I am Nicolas, I am 16, I cannot write you directly because I don’t speak and I don’t walk. I’ve asked my parents to do so.” And he says that he received his First Communion when he was six and that he will now receive Confirmation, “something that makes me very happy” and that “every night, since you have asked for it, I pray to my Guardian Angel, who is called Eusebius, and who is very patient.”
Francesca Di Maolo, president of the Seraphic Institute, addressed a few words of welcome to the Holy Father. “This work, at the doors of the city, embodies fully Saint Francis’ message, who opened to love after having embraced a leper: the man with wounds, suffering and marginalized.” Speaking of the people who come to the Institute, she said “our brothers, prisoners of darkness, of silence, of immobility face with courage and strength the challenges of disability. On this path, they are supported by the workers who carry out a service with great professionalism and love, because to decide to work in the Seraphic Institute is, in the first place, a choice of love.”
Moreover, speaking of the task of those who work there, she stressed that “close to them we find the genuine values of life. We live here among Jesus’ wounds. Here caritas isn’t a duty but a privilege and a gift.”
Turning to the Pope she expressed the certainty “that your visit will help us to face with renewed enthusiasm the difficult context in which we live. We hope that in this period of intense economic crisis, these youth without a voice will no longer be regarded as stones to be discarded, and that their invisible families, too often offended by abandonment, not be regarded as a problem that must be faced but recognized as bulwarks of life, with a capacity to support, take care of, assist and love,” adding that “we need to be seen with other eyes. At stake is the dignity and the life of mankind for whom we are all responsible and custodians. No one can be indifferent.”
The Institute takes care of children and young people with multiple disabilities who come from all over Italy. It was founded by a Franciscan friar, Blessed Ludovico da Casoria, on September 17, 1871, a memorable day in which Saint Francis received the sacred stigmata, those which in Blessed Ludovico’s thought were prolonged until touching the guests of the “Seraphic.” Every year some 12,000 hours of rehabilitation therapy and more than 10,000 hours of educational-occupational activities are engaged in in the laboratories for residential, semi-residential children. Every year more than 150 families from all over Italy make use of the services of this center.