Here is a translation of the Holy Father’s address to members of the Italian Union of the Blind and the Visually Handicapped.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters, welcome!
I greet the Apostolic Movement of the Blind; I greet the Little Mission of the Deaf and Mute, which embraces many realities of the deaf in Italy. I am grateful for the words addressed to me by the two directors and I extend my greeting to the members of the Italian Movement of the Blind and Visually Handicapped taking part in this meeting.
I would like to make a brief reflection with you on the subject “Witnesses of the Gospel for a Culture of Encounter.”
The first thing I observe is that this expression ends with the word “encounter,” but at the beginning it presupposes another meeting, that with Jesus Christ. In fact, to be witnesses of the Gospel, it is necessary to have met Jesus. One who knows him really becomes his witness. Like the Samaritan woman – we read last Sunday –: that woman met Jesus, spoke with him, and her life changed; she returns to her people and says: “Come , see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Cf. John 4:29).
A witness of the Gospel is someone who has encountered Jesus Christ, who has known him or, better, who feels known by Him, recognized, respected, loved, forgiven, and this encounter has touched him profoundly, has filled him with a new joy, a new meaning for life. And this shines through, is communicated, it is transmitted to others.
I recalled the Samaritan woman because she is a clear example of the type of person that Jesus loved to meet, to make witnesses of them: marginalized, excluded and scorned persons. The Samaritan woman was so in as much as woman and in as much as Samaritan, because the Samaritans were very much scorned by the Jews. However, we think of the many that Jesus wished to encounter, especially persons marked by sickness and disability, to cure them and restore them to full dignity. It is very important, in fact, that these persons become witness of a new attitude, which we can call the culture of encounter. A typical example is the figure of the man born blind that will be represented to us tomorrow in the Gospel of the Mass (John 9:1-41).
That man was blind from birth and was marginalized in the name of a false idea that held him to be stricken by divine punishment. Jesus rejected radically this way of thinking – which is really a blasphemous way – and does for the blind man “the work of God,” giving him his sight. However, the notable thing is that this man, because of what happened to him, becomes a witness of Jesus and of his work, which is the work of God, of life, of love, of mercy. While the leaders of the Pharisees, from the pinnacle of their security , judged him and Jesus as “sinners,” the cured blind man, with disarming simplicity, defends Jesus and in the end professes his faith in Him, and also shares his lot: Jesus is excluded, and he is also excluded. But in reality, that man became part of the new community, based on faith in Jesus and on fraternal live.
See the two opposite cultures: the culture of encounter and the culture of exclusion, the culture of prejudice, because it prejudges and excludes. In fact, the sick or disabled person can become, from his fragility and his limitation, a witness of encounter: the encounter with Jesus, who opens to life and to faith, and the encounter with others, with the community. In fact, only one who recognizes his own fragility, his own limitation can build fraternal and solidaristic relations, in the Church and in society.
Dear friends, I thank you for having come and I encourage you to go forward on this path, in which you are already walking. You of the Apostolic Movement of the Blind, making fruitful the charism of Maria Motta, woman full of faith and of apostolic spirit, and you of the Little Mission of the Deaf and Dumb, in the wake of the Venerable Father Giuseppe Gualandi. And all of you, here present, allow yourselves be encountered by Jesus: He alone really knows the human heart, He alone can release it from closure and sterile pessimism and open it to life and to hope.
Before imparting the Apostolic Blessing to those present, the Holy Father said the following words:
And now we look to Our Lady. The first encounter was great in her: the encounter between God and humanity. Let us ask Our Lady to help us to go forward in this culture of encounter. And we pray to her with the Ave Maria.[Translation by ZENIT]