ROME — On Friday afternoon, Pope Francis made a surprise visit to a community in Italy that houses and cares for persons who have severe mental disabilities. He visited both the caregivers and the beneficiaries.
The visit was part of his “Mercy Friday” initiative, in which he carries out one act of mercy a month on a Friday throughout the Jubilee of Mercy.
The Pope’s visit to Il Chicco was announced in a May 13 communiqué from Father Federico Lombardi, the Holy See press officer.
Today’s visit to Il Chicco is the fifth “sign of mercy” done by Pope Francis to mark the months of the Jubilee of Mercy: In January, he visited a nursing home; in February, he spent time with a community for addicts; in March, he went to a refugee center; and in April, he greeted refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Pope Francis sat at table and ate with the volunteers and the disabled, listening to their testimonies.
“He also visited the most severely disabled, showing signs of deep affection and tenderness; in particular to Armando and Fabio, who were the first to be accepted,” Father Lombardi related.
Il Chicco is located in Ciampino, a town just outside of Rome. It was founded in 1981 by L’Arche, an organization dedicated to making known the gifts of persons with intellectual disabilities. It houses 18 persons with disabilities.
L’Arche was founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier, when he welcomed two disabled men to leave the institutions where they were living and come live with him instead. His desire attracted others, and L’Arche now has more than 100 communities in 29 countries around the world.
The movement focuses on recognizing the gifts of the disabled, and so each house includes a workshop where they are able to work.
Pope Francis visited the workshop at Il Chicco, and afterwards, he went to the chapel to pray with the community. He spent an hour and a half with the community, and before he left, he gifted them with a monetary contribution and a basket of seasonal fruits, including cherries and peaches.
The Pope “has expressed with this visit one of the most salient points expressing his pontificate: attention to the simplest and weakest,” Father Lombardi wrote. “Bringing them tenderness and affection, he wished to give a concrete sign of how to live the Year of Mercy.”