Pope Francis held an audience with the blind and deaf on Saturday, encouraging them to become witnesses of Christ and to build a culture of encounter rather than exclusion.
“We think of the many whom Jesus wanted to meet, above all people marked by illness and disability, to heal them and to restore their full dignity to them. It is very important that such persons become witnesses of a new approach, that we could call a ‘culture of encounter,’” the Pontiff said to those gathered in Paul VI Audience Hall March 29.
He recalled two gospel stories: Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman, who exemplifies “the type of person that Jesus loved to meet, to make his witness: people who were marginalized, excluded, despised,” and Christ’s healing of the man born blind.
Despite the animosity of the Pharisees, Jesus heals the man who was blind from birth. This man, in turn, testifies to Christ’s healing power.
“The remarkable thing is that this man, starting from what had happened to him, became a witness of Jesus and of his work, that is the work of God, of life, of love, of mercy,” reflected Pope Francis.
“In effect, only those who recognize their own fragility, their own limits, can build fraternal relations of solidarity, in the Church and in society.”
This culture of encounter exemplified by Christ stands in stark contrast to “the culture of exclusion, of prejudice.”
Someone who has met the Lord “who has known him, or better, has felt knowledge of him, recognition, respect, love, forgiveness,” has had an encounter which “has touched him profoundly, has filled him with a new joy, a new significance for life. And this shines through, communicates itself, is transmitted to others,” explained Pope Francis.
“The sick or disabled person, precisely from his fragility, from his limits, can become a witness to encounter: the encounter with Jesus that unfolds to life and to faith, and the encounter with others, with the community.”
The Pope urged the blind and deaf who had gathered to meet with him, “let yourselves encounter Jesus.” He said only Jesus “truly knows the heart of man, only he can free us from shutting down and from fruitless pessimism and open us to life and to hope.”
Jakob Badde, a deaf man who attended Saturday’s audience, told CNA he was surprised at “how many people came, how excited they were, and the emotion.” He also noted “the patience of the Pope, how relaxed he was.”
Badde expressed his hope that the Saturday meeting will be the start of something more in the future. “I hope Pope Francis will improve relations with the deaf (community), and then he will also realize what technical needs there are.”
The young man from Germany added that the excitement of today’s meeting was marred only by a lack of translators using sign language in various languages: only Italian sign language was used.
“I have the feeling and the joy, but without the message,” he lamented.
Nonetheless, he said, the audience was “a beautiful encounter” with “this excitement, this passion, and then this quiet, great person.”
“I’ve never seen something like this,” he reflected.