VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis has once again demonstrated his concern for the sick and disabled by giving a seriously ill Italian teenager the sacrament of confirmation at the Vatican over the weekend.
Giuseppe Chiolo, a 16-year-old Sicilian, has been receiving treatment for cancer at the Meyer Hospital in Florence and traveled to the Vatican by ambulance on Saturday (Sept. 10) for an audience with the pope.
The Vatican said Chiolo had recently written a letter to the pontiff expressing his strong desire to meet with him and was immediately invited for an appointment with his family.
The pope hugged Chiolo warmly before administering confirmation, a foundational rite of initiation for Catholics that follows baptism and First Communion. He also urged the boy to pray for him.
The pope has often singled out the sick and disabled for particular attention and stressed that the Catholic Church must reach out to those who feel rejected or abandoned on the fringes of society.
In July this year Francis met a group of 200 sick and disabled pilgrims during a month when he had cleared his calendar of public appearances and meetings.
“Dear friends, I am very happy to be with you,” he told them. “Your presence is important to me, and it is also important that you can feel at home here.”
At a special Mass to honor the sick and disabled in St. Peter’s Square in June, the pope attacked those who fail to appreciate frailty and illness.
“It is thought that sick or disabled persons cannot be happy, since they cannot live the lifestyle held up by the culture of pleasure and entertainment,” the pope said in his homily.
“In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model.”
On Saturday the pope had words of comfort for Chiolo’s parents and for his sister and aunt who were in St. Peter’s Square for a special audience held as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
During the public audience, Francis also greeted Laura Salafia, who was left paralyzed after being shot six years ago.
The pope also met Pompeo Barbieri, who was badly injured in the 2002 earthquake that struck the southern Puglia region and has managed to become a swimming champion despite a disability that confines him to a wheelchair.
(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)