Francis to Meet with Catholics on the Autism Spectrum

Early in his papacy, Francis embraced a visibly disfigured man, demonstrating how eager Christ is to embrace all the children of God -- and how all Catholics should work to be equally welcoming. The man says that his own father is ashamed to touch him, and that people shun him in public; but after the Pope's embrace, he said, "I feel stronger and happier. I feel I can move ahead because the Lord is protecting me."

People whose physical differences isolate them from the rest of the world should, at very least, always be welcomed at Mass. When they are not, it's sometimes because of fear or discomfort, but also often out of ignorance or confusion or even embarassment. 

Now Pope Francis is hoping to end some of that isolation. This time, he is reaching out to people who are not disfigured, and who may or may not consider themselves disabled, but who do often find themselves isolated from the rest of their community and church because they are on the autism spectrum. According to an AP report:

Pope Francis will meet with autistic children and their families in a bid to help raise awareness and end the stigma and isolation of people living with autism spectrum disorders.

The Saturday audience will cap an international conference on autism being hosted this week by the Vatican's health care office. Organizers said Tuesday it was the biggest medical conference of its kind on autism, gathering more than 650 experts from 57 countries.

The Rev. P. Augusto Chendi of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers told reporters the aim of the conference and the papal audience is to "help break the isolation, and in many cases the stigma, that surrounds people affected by autistic spectrum disorders."

Rather than seeing their Church as a refuge where they can meet God, parents of kids with autism often report that their children are more isolated than ever at Mass -- either because other parishioners disapprove of their behavior, mistaking it for irreverence or a lack of discipline, or because the liturgy itself provides a sensory overload that is too much to bear, or because sitting quietly and listening is not always possible

If you have a family member with autism, or if you are on the spectrum yourself, what would you say to the Pope? What would you like your fellow Catholics to know about what it's like to a member of the Body of Christ who is on the autism spectrum -- either while you're at Mass or other church functions, or just in general?