Embracing people with disabilities

I marveled last week at the images of Pope Francis physically embracing people with disabilities. In this first photograph, he stopped his Popemobile to give a blessing to a man who was being carried by another. These images prompted me to look for other pictures of famous and powerful people in similar situations.

Pope Francis blesses man with a disability in St. Peter's Square.

Pope Francis blesses man with a disability in St. Peter’s Square.
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Pope Francis stopped to hug an American boy who has cerebral palsy.

Pope Francis stopped to hug an American boy who has cerebral palsy. Latino.foxnews.com

Pope Francis has consistently lived up to the legacy of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who lived a live of poverty, humility and compassion. I am hopeful that images like these, which went viral on the Internet and were shown widely on television, will go a long way to softening public attitudes toward those with disabilities.

This young boy, Dominic Gondreau, was seated near the front in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday. There were perhaps a quarter million people in the square, but Pope Francis noticed Dominic. His father, Paul Gondreau, later talked about what this encounter meant to him and his family.

Humanitarian and theologian Jean Vanier fully embraces people with intellectual disabilities by living in community with them.

Humanitarian and theologian Jean Vanier fully embraces people with intellectual disabilities by living in community with them.

Jean Vanier left a promising naval career and life in academia in the 1960s to set up a L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France. After becoming aware of the plight of thousands of people with developmental disabilities living in institutions, he invited two men to live with him in the first L’Arche house. He has devoted his life to writing and lecturing on embracing people with disabilities. He still lives in the original L’Arche community.

President Obama embraces Rosa Marcellino of Maryland after he signed Rosas Law.

President Obama embraces Rosa Marcellino of Maryland after he signed Rosa’s Law.

President Obama signed Rosas Law in 2007, requiring that all government documents eliminate any reference to mental retardation and instead use the term intellectual disability. The law was named for Rosa Marcellino, a 9-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who lives in Maryland. Rosa’s family fought to get the law passed. Her brother, Nick, said, “What you call people is how you treat them. If we change the words, maybe it will be the start of a new attitude toward people with disabilities.”